Vancouver, a West Coast Treasure.

by Ma. Paula Serrano @mpso_photography

From breathtaking mountain and glacier views to beautiful sandy beaches, Vancouver’s natural scenery is enough to amaze even the savviest of travelers. Not having visited Canada before, I didn’t really know what to expect from it. When you travel more to the United States than anywhere else as a kid, like I did, perhaps you miss out on the wonders that other parts of America have to offer. The usual comment that I received from people when I said that I was traveling to Vancouver was “Oh, Canada! You’ll freeze”, but believe me, the weather is not what calls your attention, or at least not the only thing…

Whether you’re a nature or city person, the range of activities that the city offers is plenty. Outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or gastronomical delights, you can truly find it all. Although my stay in Vancouver was short (5 days) I got to know certain places that I absolutely recommend for travelers seeking to visit this gem:

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  1. Whistler

The first place I’ll recommend is for the adventurous ones. Whistler, located about an hour and a half from Vancouver, is a small ski-village for the reckless athletes seeking adrenaline. On the way to the ski-resort stop by Lions bay, as I did, to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and a nice view. In whistler there are some good places to eat like Earl’s bar and grill, and later you can walk around and explore some of the cute shops which sell hand-crafted souvenirs at reasonable prices.

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2. Stanley Park

Stanley Park is a must-go, I recommend it to all tourists but especially to my fellow photographers. Even if you only stay in Vancouver for a couple of days, you can not miss out on it, besides, it doesn’t require much of your time. You can easily plan one activity in the morning and leave Stanley Park for a late afternoon walk to relax and enjoy the sunset. The park has an extension of 100 acres and is formed by three main gardens: The Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron, The Rose and Floral display, and the Shakespeare garden. Within the park you can find around 3,500 rose bushes, 45 species of trees, and if you visit on spring you can witness a variation of colored cherry blossoms. For the more active tourists, bicycles are available (for rent) to go on a nice ride along the lake.

 

  1. Granville Island

Just when you thought Vancouver could not be as diverse as people say it is, you visit Granville Island. Located next to downtown and only 15 minutes away from several residential neighborhoods, this urban oasis has many attractions. It is the perfect place to visit if you are an avid shopper as there are several small stores that sell from beautiful photographs and paintings which feature the city’s highlights to jewelry and home decorations. If you like pets and animals, there are some cute little pet shops for our beloved companions to become even more spoiled. However, the best part of this island is not the shops but the relaxing and artistic vibe that you get when you stroll around it, as it is usual to find artistic performers attracting small crowds.

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  1. Gastown

And of course, because it is important to visit the historical sites of any city on a trip, I recommend Gastown. Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core named after the Yorkshire seaman Jack Deighton “Gassy”. The town, which more than a century ago functioned as the city’s seaport and center of trade, now stands as a “trendy mix” of fashion boutiques, tourism businesses, restaurants, and nightclubs. Taking a walk here is getting to know one of the city’s highlights.

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Vancouver is also the perfect destination for healthy foodies. Being a celiac myself, I know how challenging it can be to find gluten-free options, or for that matter, healthy options. Below I give a list of three restaurants that were beyond delicious, and had options for all (Vegan included).

 

  • “Meet” on Main

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan on a budget, this is the perfect spot for you. The restaurant’s menu ranges from delicious appetizers (shareable sizes), to healthy hamburgers and creative desserts. Choose the Nachos and hummus, or the garlic fries and you won’t regret it.

 

Address: 4288 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5V 3P9, Canada

 

  • The Sandbar

Located in Granville island, this place offers the best seafood you can get. The restaurant’s ambient is really nice, as there are piano performances most days a week. The service is really good, and if you have any allergies or food-preferences the waiters will help you feel completely safe. Take a pick on the wood-grilled halibut, one of the best seafood dishes I have ever had. I will say that the restaurant is not budget-friendly, and you should expect the plates to be kind of pricy.

 

Address: 1535 Johnston St #102, Vancouver, BC V6H 3R9, Canadá

 

 

  • Ten Ten Tapas

Although I enjoyed the two restaurants detailed above, this was by far my favorite. Ten Ten Tapas is located on beach avenue, on a beautifully-lighted peer with a view of the sea and downtown Vancouver. The location is only the first thing to appeal to the eyes, but the food will leave you wanting to come back. As it is a Tapas place I think it is better to go at night for a somewhat light dinner with friends/family. Despite the small size of the plates and the somehow high prices, the food is absolutely amazing and worth it. Hands down to the Chef for making a delicious and creative chocolate mousse mixed with pieces of mandarin.

 

Address: 1010 Beach Ave, Vancouver, BC V6E 1T7, Canada

 

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Tokyo, a City Made for the Ultimate Foodie.

Written by: @cazadordelomejor

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Japan is the ultimate foodie experience. Being one of the biggest food-experience seekers there is, I knew my next big trip had to be somewhere far, somewhere different and somewhere with a strong food culture. One step into Narita International Airport and I was already dreaming of what I’d be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 Tokyo is a city with a huge food palette. You can scour the various neighborhoods and alleyways for the tastiest Ramen, Yakitori, Izakaya, Sushi, Tempura, Udon, Okonomiyaki, and Soba. You’ll find that many restaurants specialize on only one type of dish – it’s perfected from generation to generation.

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 Here is my breakdown of Tokyo’s six main districts and the food that can be devoured in each:

 Tsukiji & Ginza

 Home to the renowned Tsukiji Fish Market, you cannot leave this area without enjoying a traditional sushi omakase at Sushi Daiwa. This hole in the wall sushi joint opens up at 5:30 AM, get there early to get a seat. Then head to the inner market at Tsukiji which opens up to the public at 10:00 AM and navigate the enormous halls of the biggest seafood market in the world.

Highlights:

Sushi Omakase at Sushi Daiwa

Lunch menu at Sushi Tokami

Tori Paitan with an Egg at Kagari Soba

Japanese Confectionaries at Higashiya

House Blend at Cafe de L’Ambre

Seasonal Cocktail at Ginza Music Bar

Yakitori at BirdLand

Harajuku & Aoyama

Bursting with restaurants, coffee spots, shops, boutiques and vintage stores, it is one of the best neighborhoods to get your shopping and eating game on. Stroll along Omotesandō Street and see shops converted into architectural destinations. There’s something special about Aoyama that kept me going back every other day – to sample a dessert at the newly renovated Pierre Hermé, try out the Mr. Roboto pastry sold exclusively at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Japan, or enjoy a cold brew at Blue Bottle.

Highlights:

Order the entire menu at Harajuku Gyoza (a few doors down from Harajuku Gyoza is a small takeout window serving one of the best Chicken Karaage I’ve ever tried)

Raspberry-Rose Madeleine at Pierre Hermé

Mr. Roboto and a Seasonal Cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery Japan

Salmon-Avocado Pancakes at Rainbow Pancake

Cold Brew at Blue Bottle Coffee

Asakusa

A calm neighborhood where Buddhist temples are nestled between streets full of tempura restaurants. Its main attraction is the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple, an architectural beauty that is best to be visited when there is absolutely no one around, early in the morning or right at sundown to snap some National Geographic worthy shots.

Shinjuku

Exactly what you imagine Tokyo to be. Tall skyscrapers, colorful billboards, enormous crosswalks, and futuristic department stores with incredible underground food halls (Depachika) that must be visited. One of the highlights of my trip was drinks and live jazz at the New York Bar, high above Tokyo. Get a table right in front of the stage to create an unforgettable experience. A contrasting part of Shinjuku that makes it so special is Golden Gai, a small and cozy nightlife district where you’ll stumble across tiny bars, each with its own charm.

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Highlights:

Albatross Bar

New York Bar, Park Hyatt Hotel

Isetan Depachika

 Close by:

Cocktail Omakase at Gen Yamamoto (Minato Area)

Multi-Course menu at Narisawa (Minato Area)

Tsukemen at Rokurinsha (Tokyo Station)

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A trip to Japan involves a lot of eating, walking, discovering, interacting with locals (they love foreigners), and will leave you wanting to move there as soon as possible, or at least that’s what happened to me. If you’re flying out of Narita, don’t forget to grab a farewell sushi at Kyotatsu.

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Tips for first-time travelers to Japan:

 

  • Pocket Concierge is a great platform that will help you secure reservations for Michelin starred restaurants
  • Be sure to pick up a Suica Transit Card upon arrival at the airport to navigate local public transit
  • If you plan on travelling outside of Tokyo, be sure to purchase a Japan Railway Pass, it provides bullet train transportation at a great price
  • Pocket Wi-Fi is a necessity in order to use Google maps and make navigating around Japan easy, these can be rented at the airport

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Follow along on my food experiences @cazadordelomejor on Instagram – Boston is up next!

Who is Iceland?

She. The one I’ve been dreaming of for years. As everything you dream of, eventually I started inventing her a little… later a lot.

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She is the one Borges called “ Iceland of the Seas”, the youngest geological formation of our planet  (so young she is only 25 million years old). Has the North Pole as a neighbor. Though been a part of Europe,  she really isn’t because floats far away. Remote. Forgotten by many – even by me- until made myself a promise to remember her.

Called “The Land of Ice and Fire”,  honestly I don’t think there is a better way to describe her. Land of contrasts, where the unexpected is expected. More than 200 volcanoes, 10000 miles of glaciers, 800 thermal areas and geysers, surrounded by fjords, spectacular waterfalls, translucent lakes, tectonic plates that leave cracks as evidence, fantastic caves; all of them conform such a unique landscape, that will surely mesmerize every visitor.

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Declared also: “Last Natural Paradise in Europe” honor that comes with the responsibility to conserve her intact.

UNESCO declared  Reykjavik  “ City of Literature“ because of the enormous contribution she has made to literature. Birthplace of a Nobel price and creators of two literary genders: Edas and Sagas. Their gift to humanity also includes documenting  the Germanic Culture of the X century.

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Bold and Fearless are the words that come to my mind to describe her. Resilient to the extreme. Life’s pulse can be felt in Iceland, that need to flourish from dirt and rocks is not just an allegory here, it is for real. With only 11% of the land good for farming  and long and dark winters, life in Iceland was probably very hard before electricity. Cold and famine lethal.

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Iceland is also the land of democracy and peace. They brag about been the first democracy of the world, their parliament was founded more than 1000 years ago. Without having an army of any sort they became independent  from Denmark in 1944 and the only thing they asked back was their most precious treasure: The Codex Regious and their Manuscripts.

My theory is that adversity has turned them into a very special society, mature and wise.

Visiting her is a pleasure, a visual adventure. Getting to know her is a once in a lifetime experience that we all deserve to enjoy.

My next post will be an Iceland Guide, so you will be really tempted to pack your bags and go.

 

Top 10 Reasons to Visit London in Summer:

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London is undeniably a great destination always. An amazing city that will please even those hard-to-please travelers. But if given a choice, mine will be to visit during summer. In the northern hemisphere some cities become too hot for pleasurable walk, but not London. Plus the fact that it’s longer days allow the visitor more time to enjoy it.

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  1. Wimbledon: Even if you are not a tennis fan, the energy of the city during the tournament is special. Londoners become friendlier with visitors the city feels more welcoming. Restaurants, hotels and bars, find their decor inspiration in the tournament . Pubs are crowded with people that share a beer while watching the daily matches. Around town streets and parks display gigantic screens. Strangers riding the tube share their opinions about the latest developments.IMG_7008IMG_7026_2
  2. Roof Top Bars: I have a particular affection for them, don’t know why. Whenever I visit a new city try to explore a few. In London the fact that at 11pm at night in summer the sun still shines, makes it even more appealing. The views of the city from up there are beautiful and allow you to see it from a different perspective. A calmer one. My favorite roof top bars in London are: “Radio Bar” at the ME Hotel, “Aqua Spirits”, “The Roof Gardens”, “Boundary” y  “The Lost Format Society”.
  3. The Hampton Court Flower Festival: The biggest floral exposition of the world: 50 gardens exhibit here including the marvelous water gardens. One of my favorite ones is the tent dedicated to roses, as well as visiting the innovators in conceptual gardening.
  4. Picnics : English love their picnics indeed. As soon as the weather is nice they run for their lifes to one of the many parks, with baskets full of goodies in hand. Places like “Harrods” and “Fortnum and Mason” have a wide variety of them ready for purchase and delivery. Some hotels also offer the picnic basket as part of their services. In my opinion the best parks for a picnic are: Primrose Hill Park, Greenwich Park and Richmond Park.IMG_0372Processed with VSCO with s3 preset
  5. Sales: June and july are the best time for bargains in Europe. It’s true that some stores can be too crowded at times but I think the wait is worth it, reductions can go as far as 70% off. Even the designer brands that traditionaly don’t offer discounts, do it in summer.IMG_0492
  6. Open Air Theater: What about watching Shakespeare under the light of the moon? In summer you can, many places offer open air theater, Regent Park is probably the most famous, but there are other venues like St Pauls Church in Covent Garden and The Globe Playhouse .
  7. Dinner with a View: Foggy London can’t always offer this. But summer is your best bet. The restaurants that I would recommend are: “Fenchurch at Sky Garden”, “Duck And Waffles” and “Serpentine Bar and Kitchen”
  8. Street Markets: If you have read me before you know I “have a thing” for markets. In London there are many and the weather in summer is perfect for visiting them. One of the most alluring ones for me is the Portobello Road Market, walking it is a pleasure and make sure you keep your eyes opened for The Humming Bird Bakery http://www.thehummingbirdbakery.com that offers the best chocolate cake in London.IMG_0503
  9. Music Festivals: Can’t expect less from the birth land of The Beatles, Adele, Amy Whinehouse and Coldplay. The amount and variety of them is huge, from the famous Festival at Sommerset House to the Eastern Electrics Festival,  ideal for the electronic music fanatics.
  10.  Sundance Film Festival: Since 2012 this wonderful festival that takes place on January in USA comes to London in June, which allows the cinema fans from the other side of the ocean to enjoy it.IMG_0359

Galapagos Islands in a few words.

When we arrived, I apologyzed. Couldn’t find the right words to describe the place nor my feelings about it. Back home, I must confess that the whole week I have been trying, looking up for new words on the dictionary, watching over and over pictures and videos of the trip – which has been counterproductive because with each image I am left speechless again. So I have decided to write only the few thoughts that coherently I can articulate, and let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

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Galapagos is not a place, is a time space. You arrive by plane or ship from continental Ecuador, but seems like you’ve traveled in a time machine to a parallel universe. To a place where for some reason time doesn’t goes by at the same pace. Or perhaps hours and days go by, but not years? I am thinking that maybe in Lewis Carroll’s world or at a Kubric’s movie some of this makes sense.

Nirvana,  that stage of complete bliss and enlightenment, that some religions have as the ultimate state to achieve, is the word that comes to mind. I felt like that, as if every cell of my body was full of oxygen and nutrients. As if everything was perfect, lacking nothing. Felt like a millionaire of life.

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Galapago’s animals seem like Saint Francis of Assisi trained them. They don’t fear humans or vice versa. Sharks and penguins swim close, with the confidence that gives them the fact of have never been harmed. Sea lions take naps on the pier or on boats, while black iguanas lay back in the sun careless. Once in a while, a stingray flies out a bit just to get noticed.

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Nature looks intact, unchanged from what it probably looked like for thousand of years.

 

Humans that inhabit there (very limited numbers) seem to be fully aware of their blessings and take good care of the islands. Visitors understand it very soon  too.Processed with VSCO with s3 preset

In case you have plans to go, here is a list of hotels and restaurants that I love:

Best Hotels

www.finchbayhotel.com

www.angermeyer-waterfront-inn.com

www.pikaialodge.com

http://www.royalpalmgalapagos.com

Best eats:

La Garrapata: Restaurant and bar

Il Giardino: Restaurant and Gelateria

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Angermeyer Cafe:  The food is delicious, cocktails are great too; but the view is priceless. Great place to watch the sunset.

I’m Galapagos’s obsessed now. Since I left, I only want to go back.