Travel ~ 31. Iceland

Twenty-one photos of my adventure in Reykjavik, Iceland. Loved it!

Travel ~ Represent Cuba!

Since diplomatic relations relaxed between the U.S. and Cuba, leisure and business travelers (remember the Rihanna cover story in Vanity Fair) have been traveling to the Caribbean.

Known for white sandy beaches, cohibas and rum, Cuba has a variety of historical culture to offer surrounding the beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture.

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Crocodile shaped since Christopher Columbus landed in 1942, this warm and welcoming country has changed over time. From Fulgencio Batista‘s dictatorship to Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara overthrowing the government, fearless Fidel Castro led the nation to a prominent place. Now President, Raúl Castro is maintaining the Communist rule of the sovereign state with style. Hopefully, the country will keep its creative charm while the infrastructure is transitioning its marketplace from foreign investment interests. You notice the little things here.

Leaving Jose Martí International Airport, where will you stay? Well “hello Havana” or should we say, “Hola”. For accommodation, Hotel Florida is a cosy colonial casa featuring a cute courtyard with authentic Cuban cuisine in Old Havana. Hotel Saratoga which I know from my first visit is a great location for exploring on foot and by eye at their rooftop bar that has numerous cocktails and excellent service.

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El Malecon. My favourite memory of Cuba. Photo: Niya Sinckler.

Then Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where I previously stayed on my second visit is a lovely luxury gem over 90 years old in the middle of Vedado. Amazing art deco, beautiful blue skies, exclusive eats, seaside views, a gorgeous garden, a cool cabaret room and celebrities strutting through the lobby are what got me. This is the place to be! Taking a walk along the magical Malecón, you’ll find the Museo de la Revolución, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana and Museo Nacional de Historia de Cuba where one can learn about the art, culture and history of Cuba.

When looking for a casual lunch, support the locals by going to a paladar (family-run restaurant). La Galería (moderate) has amazing fresh fish or Atelier (splurge) offers Cuban continental cuisine, both in Vedado. For the art lovers, you will admire every inch of this island. From the classic vintage cars to locals painting portraits on the cobblestone streets, there is something for everyone. Business is also flourishing more now and I’m rooting for Cuban entrepreneurs. Fashionistas are even in town for Chanel‘s Cruise 2017 collection runway. Follow on Instagram for updates. Who knows you may even brush shoulders with the master of fashion, Karl Lagerfeld or Brasilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, rumoured to be walking the show by the Paseo del Prado promenade claims Harper’s Bazaar.

Two blocks away, El Capitolio designed by Eugenio Rayneri Piedra stands grandiose with neoclassical architecture. Often a friendly guy, Miguel is hanging out on the steps who will take your photo with an old fashioned camera which I loved since photography is one of my passions. Say queso and smile as you’re taken back to the 1950s. Local music can be found in numerous neighbourhoods. Soon enough, the Latina in you will come out as you hear different beats and sounds around the city. Prepare your Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC, local currency) for drinks at El Floridita to delve into the era of Ernest Hemingway and sip the best daiquiri in the world.

Dinner at the popular eatery, El Aljibe is the best. It’s the pollo (chicken)! Also the open concept and again this is a family run restaurant. I love it. And of course, you get a special treat at the end of your meal. Can you say Cuba Libre y cigarro? I think yes! Dance the night away at Café Cantante Mi Habana with a range of artists representing real rumba, heavy hip-hop, rock and sassy salsa in a mixed crowd of locals and tourists aged early 20s to late 40s. For that midnight bite, stop by Cafe de los Artistas. Lastly, I would be recommend venturing to Varadero in the northeast Matanzas Province, Trinidad in the midwest Sancti Spíritus Province and the second largest city in the southeast, Santiago de Cuba to enjoy the ocean coastline.

Today marked an emotional moment as well. According to Reuters, it was the first time in decades that a U.S. cruise ship entered the Havana Bay area. Get ready to travel. Check flights and peruse hotels. Dare to discover colourful Cuba.

 

 

Culture ~ Communities Unite

Prayers and thoughts go out to the dozens dead and those affected by the bombings this morning in Brussels, Belgium.

According to Reuters, at least 34 people were killed and over 180 injured at Zaventem international airport and Maelbeek metro station during rush hour in the Belgian capital.

Speaking with friends who live in Brussels, it was a relief to know that they are out of harm’s way through the safety check on Facebook.

The city is on high alert at level 4. Airports are closed. Flights were cancelled. Metro stations are in lock down mode. People in Brussels are urged to remain at home to keep roads clear for emergency and security officials. Live updates are on Le Soir.

We all feel the effect as Europe has been targeted. The New York Times reported that ISIS claimed responsibility. With heightened security, many wonder will our modes of transport and travel begin to change over time to prevent explosions. It’s times like these where communities must unite. Standing together for solidarity and support is important to overcome extremism.

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#PriepourBruxelles #PrayforBrussels #PrayforBelgium #TenirBon

Culture ~ Japan Week 2016

Today starts Japan Week, a promotional event organized by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) in New York.

Visitors can discover and experience art, crafts, clothing, food, technology and travel in Japanese culture through their five senses at Grand Central Terminal.

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Broadcasting organization, NHK World sharing the scenes of Japan Week. Photo: Niya Sinckler.

Hearing:

Listen to artistic instructions of how to apply Kabuki makeup. Create crafts such as lovely Kinchaku hand purses, beautiful Kaga Yuzen handkerchiefs and cool origami configurations. Win collectible items or a Hatsune Miku concert ticket, Japan’s favourite fictional character who changes the way music is made today.

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Hatsune Miku. Photo: Google.

Sight:

Watch JNTO feature performances from Ishikawa. Participate in kimino fittings, I remember when I wore my first one as seen below. Learn about the traditional symbol of beauty, cherry blossoms or sakura (桜 or 櫻; さくら in Japanese) that bloom every spring. View the beautiful pink petals in Vanderbilt Hall. Guess the cherry blossom blooming date in Hirosaki to win a trip to Japan!

I have been three times Japan already in 2006, 2007 and 2008. It’s truly an amazing country with warm hospitality. Missing my Japanese friends now and memories of karaoke during the weekends. The JNTO Tourism Booth can provide you with information on city highlights, castles, temples, hot springs and festivals across Japan with free maps and brochures in English and Japanese.

Touch:

Venture to the Hokkaido booth to try on traditional clothing from the Ainu, (アイヌ in Japanese) indigenous people from Japan  and understand the natural wonders of the region.

Smell:

The 120 year old company, Kubara Honke is showcasing their Japanese seasonings and locally sourced natural products such as Dashi cooking broth, dressings and tea. Sip on tradition. From there, your nose will wonder over to the delicious or oishii (美味しい/ おいしいin Japanese) offerings.

Taste:

Food and innovative technology combine to provide a traditional cuisine serving of kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi). Restaurants will recommend their renowned seafood. Then my favourite place, Mitsuwa Marketplace will be selling Hokkaido ikameshi (rice stuffed squid), corn soup and Tohoku’s local root vegetable, dried gobo. Cosmopolitan items including miso ramen noodles, chocolates and candy are available too. At these stands, visitors will learn why Hokkaido is a major agricultural and culinary center.

Travel:

Delta Airlines, New York’s ever-growing carrier will be offering non-stop flights to Tokyo. Visitors can experience Business Elite Seat and receive vouchers for travel. Additionally, you can learn about JR-EAST, Japan’s largest railway company and the high speed train, shinkansen coming soon to connect Tokyo, Tohoku and Hokkaido.

Japan Week is a collaborative event between JNTO and over 40 exhibitors from New York and Japanese governments, businesses and travel agencies are in attendance. Walk around and find what excites you. Who knows the international television network, NHK World might even interview you. Join now from 10-12 March 2016. Follow the latest updates on Facebook and Twitter. For more information on travel to Japan: www.us.jnto.go.jp

Travel ~ Countdown Begins

Travel inspires us to look at things a different way with each experience. Venturing to a country can open numerous doors and establsh new paths of thinking. Travel is like a drug, you always crave more adventure.

It’s apparent that we might always have the funds to go there but there are other ways. Making the most of moments around you. Through news, film and entertainment, it’s possible to enjoy various cultures.

Newspapers allow the invitation to read and digest what’s going on abroad. Films create that escape to learn about the cultural aspects and customs of another country. Entertainment, the distraction so it almost feels like we’re on vacation.

Until then, I’m cloudgazing wondering where the planes are heading…

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