Posted in Places to visit, Travel

Trop Chic a Paris

CES Unveiled ParisParis is fashion, art and oh my, food. It is my guilty pleasure. I will sneak out of a new exhibition just to munch on still warm pain au chocolat accompanied with a perfect espresso. It does not help that every street is full of boulangeries and shops selling mouth watering macaroons. According to some opinions, the best ones are to be found on Boulevard Magenta, at Marché couvert Saint-Quentin (St Quentin covered market).

Last year I spent my birthday in Paris treating myself to a lunch at Alain Ducasse‘s Rech. It is his signature seafood restaurant in the heart Paris’s 17th arrondissement, just minutes from the Arc de Triomphe and Place de l’Etoile. The place dates back to 1920s and is currently celebrating its 90th anniversary with specially crafted menu. The food was absolutely perfect, the service not so much. In a typical french fashion, the wait staff was very much stuck up and über snobbish. Despite that, the experience was exquisite and I look forward to exploring his other restaurants. I feel like trying Benoit next time, have not decided yet if it will be in Tokyo or New York.

It is all about the location

My favorite, 10e arrondissement is like foodies heaven. It might be a little shabby and off the beaten track but it’s where the real stuff happens. Upscale dining, bistros, french fast food, brunch and burgers. There is always something for everyone. I love that it’s always crowded and full of life. Nobody waits for the weekend, they are enjoying themselves right there, in the middle of the week like naughty kids never worried about tomorrow.

John Viande ParisDuring my last trip two weeks ago, I discovered John Viande – home to tasty burgers with a great selection of beers. It was a perfect end to a crazy packed twenty four hours in Paris. I love its odd decor and the easygoing vibe. Paris has a similar problem to Milan, unless you know where you want to eat or have something recommended by the locals, you will most probably end up at an overpriced tourist trap. So better do your research beforehand.

Airports matter too

DeparturesIt is always great to pop in, whether it’s a quick business trip or a longer weekend gateway. The only thing that spoils the experience is the airport or rather both of the Parisian airports. Orly and Charles de Gaulle are equally terrible, however the latter one is a bit better connected to the city. Thanks to the metro, you can reach Gare du Nord in roughly half an hour. Orly has a tram and train but whenever I head there, it feels like the whole trips takes forever. And if you ever consider a few hour overlay at either of the airports prepare for a painful experience. Better, opt for a layover at Amsterdam, Munich of Frankfurt. Stuck at CDG before 6am I had an option of one duty free store and a tiny cafe. There was nothing else. It made me miss Helsinki airport, which is quite an achievement. Even if it is considered to be one of the best airports in Europe (Lufthansa’s hub, Munich is number one).

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Posted in Late night revelations, Ponderings

Planning Trips in My Head

Do you have days that you spend on picking your next vacation spot? I do it almost every single day. As you probably noticed from this blog, I usually do not plan it that far ahead. Planning does not involve actual planning either. It is more of a “where do I feel like going in the next few days/weeks”. If we talk months, then I am probably mind shopping for a new country to move to. I have been doing that a lot. In the past ten years I managed to settle (settle – not the best word for me, the greatest commitment phobe out there) in Milano, Lausanne, Maastricht and Helsinki with brief stints in Innsbruck and my beloved Krakow. This year got me stuck on NYC, there is also Toronto, Vancouver and Asia as fun alternatives. Recently, I would like to just be able to winter on Bali. Or in Mumbai. If we talk Mumbai, then I know exactly where I would go apartment hunting. Always optimistic, I would venture into least affordable, most captivating Nariman Point.

Oh boy, it is high time to get on that plane.

Mumbai map

Posted in Places to visit, Travel

Krakow. A Place Built on My Childhood Memories

Krakow will always hold a special place in my heart, along with other places and people that touched me on a deeper level. Not everyone likes their hometown, some might even hate it with a passion. Others cultivate a love – hate relationship. Love it at a distance, hate it on a closer approach. I love my city. I find it utterly fascinating with its little crooks and crannies, its artsy vibe and abundance of stories.

Krakow by nightEstablished during the seventh century, it has acquired a lot of layers over the years. A lot of people I met on my path visited the city or knew its history. When I mention that I am in fact Krakow-born, I get a lot of enthusiastic reactions from “oh, it so amazing” to “You are from Krakow? No wonder you don’t fit in Finland. Why would you?”.

Why did I leave then? I was never the one who valued comfort of known things and familiarity. I wanted to explore, taste, get lost and get found. Every since I remember, I was a little restless. Always on the move, in a different country, nothing was ever enough. Forever a wanderer I come back often to recharge my batteries and to stroll through the streets. In the past ten or so years of my wandering I acquired few other “homes”. The list includes Milano, where I spent my early adult years and Toronto, my safe haven. Even now, writing this, my heart yearns for them.

What is so special about Krakow?

Krakow airportLocated in the southern Poland, it’s close to the mountains, an ideal place for a quick weekend gateway to reconnect with the nature. However, there is usually so much happening in the city that nobody considers getting away. At least not until the smog hits and being outside becomes impossible. A valley city, Krakow is prone to long-lasting fogs that start about now and last until December. Flying in and out then is a lottery, you might be one of the lucky few that will manage to land or take off. For this simple reason autumn flights are mostly operated by Lufthansa, who with a hub in nearby Katowice can afford to bus passengers back and forth.

IMG_1039Despite all of this, it’s definitely a place to visit. If I were you, I’d probably skip the main attractions including the castle and old city heading instead to the Jewish district. It is being constantly renovated but still remains a bit raw and grungy. Apart from lovely synagogs you will find here a ton of small art galleries, vintage stores and design studios. On the weekend you should pop in for a flea market dominated by the antiques. Early Saturday means food market and you should not miss it! If you do and are getting hunger pangs, you can choose among the best eateries Krakow can offer.

Here are some of my favorites:

IMG_0867Satori Cafe: a heaven for book lovers. Filled with books and jazz music, it invites you to get lost in the fantasy land. Offers a mouth-watering hot chocolate, great tarts and salads.

Miejsce: the best place for a freelancer to hide away from the world and write. Or code. I spent months here working on my own company back in 2012. It has seen a lot of great wins and bad loses, which would be celebrated or mourned over one of dozen homemade liqueurs. Come for hummus, orange and ginger winter drink and board games. Hosts spontaneous parties every other day.

Dawno Temu na Kazimierzu: tiny and very cosy, serves authentic and amazing Jewish delicacies. Like a proper Jewish establishment it has a small selection of Jewish wines, a rare treat. Come for the interior incorporating different Jewish “stores” and live concerts. Better call and book, this small space fills up quickly.

Krakow MiejsceCheder Cafe: right across Satori Cafe you can find an active Jewish culture center. This mixture of a cafe, library and unofficial meeting place has a unique atmosphere. It feels like being transported back a hundred years. Come by for a Hanukah, Jewish festival of lights, and various workshops.

Posted in Places to visit, Travel

Go Hipster in Berlin

Air BerlinHaven’t been in Berlin for at least ten years, I was looking forward to discover what everyone was so excited about. I spent a lot of time in Germany as a teen so I have a strange, nostalgic feeling towards it. Thanks to German/Austrian family roots I can fake a perfect german accent which unfortunately is completely spoiled by my lack of proper grammar.

My first impression of the city was fantastic. It must have something to do with the fact that I was flying again and that will make me ecstatic any day. Already the cab ride was exciting. A young cabbie told me that he moons as a realtor and has a couple of apartments where he likes to organize crazy house parties. He also admitted that he loves crazy people, hates police and drives all the way to Lebanon for fun. Because life is too short. Definitely my kind of people.

I stayed in Prenzlauer Berg in East Berlin, a gentrified neighborhood with a highest concentration of moms in a whole Europe. Since it’s Berlin, it’s very much hipster and in no way suburban by any standard. My Airbnb apartment was a top floor loft with a teeny-tiny balcony from which I could observe the other tenants while working from home. Apparently if you want to be hip in Berlin, you have to be an artist or at least an aspiring creative. All of my temporary neighbors seemed to be music producers, writers or designers.

GraffitiThe place is an absolute heaven for a foodie. On every corner you can find a mix of asian restaurants and cool bars. I had an amazing Korean BBQ, Vietnamese summer rolls and a breakfast to die for at a New Zealand cafe. In the evening we headed with a friend to Mexican Taco place with fantastic margaritas and then to a lounge bar by the river hidden away in Kreuzberg. If it wasn’t for her, I would be still trying to find my way home.

I was planning to join for a tour of an abandoned Tempelhof airport including basements and bunkers but unfortunately three days in Berlin is just not enough. The city is the best to be seen from a bike, you can get them pretty much anywhere. As everything here, it’s pretty cheap: on average €10-12 for 24 hours. Bike lanes are everywhere and other bikers are not as aggressive as in Copenhagen.

Berlin has everything for everyone. It’s pulsating with this raw energy that attracts restless souls. I run into a r’n’b party at a subway station where young and old danced side by side, connected by a moment and nobody thought it was weird. Open and friendly, it’s a perfect place to have fun and experiment if you are into that.

Few places on top of my mind:

Berlin subwayMauerpark: park in Prenzlauer Berg. Come for a flea market on Sunday and an open air karaoke party.

The Bird: Burger chain and what could be the best burger I had in my life. Enter at your own risk – every other burger after that will be a disappointment. If you go, try the Bronx Jon with swiss cheese and mushrooms.

Antipodes: most hipster place to have breakfast at. Grab one of the tables outside and enjoy an amazing Laugenecke filled with avocado and bacon with prana chai latte on the side. Heaven.

Yuki: absolutely the best Korean BBQ in Berlin even if a waitress spills a hot tea all over you. Dumplings with kimchi are my favorite. Tuesdays are for all you can BBQ.

Chaostheorie Berlin: healthy smoothie cafe by day, cocktail bar by night. Has disco light bathroom, matcha drinks and home made baileys. Barman can speak Polish and that’s always a plus in my book.

Posted in Flying, Holiday posts, Late night revelations, Travel

And That’s How I Bumped into a Fighter Pilot

Mumbai turned out to be my lucky place not only because of stunning views and the fact that I could arrange for a private yoga class on a rooftop of my hotel right before the sunset. Heading to Elephanta Island I decided to use one of Trident’s minis to get to the ferry at the India Gateway. I also happened to be sharing my ride with a super nice guy who turned out to be a retired fighter pilot currently flying for Delta. I got to hang out with him the whole day so the poor champ had to answer all possible questions about planes, flying, cadet programs, aviation and anything remotely related to that.

training to be a pilotCherry on top, he even trained some of the Lufthansa folks at their US base in Scottsdale and suggested I try out for one of the airline pilot schools since my eyesight might not actually be an obstacle here. I am heading for medical A-exams and as you can imagine I already researched all available programs. As it turns out, there are just about three fully sponsored trainings that I could get into: Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic, out of which only Cathay is recruiting for this year.

Out of these three, Lufthansa has probably the most sound program available to Europeans. It is fully sponsored and comes with a promise of instant hire after the graduation as long as there open positions. You might need to clock in some hours as a flight attendant or at the back office but demand will eventually kick in. Cathay is a bit tricky. Technically it is open to international applicants but strong preference is given to Hong Kong nationals. There is always a possibility if you have started ATL on your own or have completed CPL already. Virgin just launched its program and is not hiring anyone at the moment. It is also a sponsored program but requires all the trainees to purchase an advance bond that will be repaid over seven years once fully employed by the company.

What a chance! It looks like I can also put my fly on MiGs in Russia” project on hold for now as I might get to fly on Tomahawk fighter planes in Florida. Flying over the ocean they can easily go to Mach 1 breaching the speed of sound. It is available to tourists as well so cross your fingers!

military-jet-fighter-569907_640

Posted in Flying, Holiday posts, Holidays, Places to visit, Travel

Mystery Land Called India

India is a land of contrasts where slums are neighbor to $2billion house, home to a three person family and six hundred servants. It is a place that cannot be summarized in a few words, it has to be experienced. The country is too vast to be taken in one stride and if you want to try everything at once it will easily swallow you.

finnair_wing

My original idea was to touch down in Delhi, a short six hour hop from Finland, do the necessary sightseeing in Agra and head down to Andaman Islands. There is something about this region that is calling to me. It might be the jungle, wild elephants, extreme beauty or how isolated it is. Scared of getting stuck at Port Blair for a week because of the monsoon season I decided to postpone Andamans until January 2016 and head to Kerala instead. I contacted a local agency and arranged for a guide to take me to tea plantations around Munnar, wildlife sanctuary in Chinnar and on a houseboat through Kerala’s backwaters. However, my plans have a tendency to not work out.

IMG_3255Taj Mahal and Agra were overwhelming – the heat, dirt and throngs of people taking selfies almost everywhere. Some of the indian tourists brought professional photographers along with them. It is a BIG deal and no amount of “no pictures allowed” signs would discourage them. One of the few westerners there, I quickly became a hit among the visitors. Sweaty and tired I posed for hundreds of pictures with families, kids and random groups of guys. I smiled and waved trying to disregard all the evil stares I got when I gave in to the heat and striped down to a tank-top. I ventured bare foot into numerous mosques, hidden chambers and admired stunning mosaics. I chased tiny squirrels, played with monkeys and got to know the names of all the cows. Getting ricksha was so much more exciting than cruising in an AC cab. Cacophony of sounds was absolutely mesmerizing.

Life is What Happens When You are Busy Making Plans

Good things come to an end and so did this. I got back to Delhi and found myself dying from a mysterious bacterial infection that my doctor deemed as a “bug from that nasty Agra place”. Two intravenous and one muscular injection later I started to feel like a human again. Never in my life I had wished for the lights to go out, never been in so much pain.

IMG_3278As it turned out I also ended up missing my flight to Kochi the next day. Not so much because of all the dying the night before but more because I checked the time wrong. My flight left at 9 am while I was convinced that it was supposed to leave at 1PM. Well, 4th time is the charm. Having no other option, I extended my stay at the hotel and spent the rest of the day trying to salvage the situation. After getting excited about Bhutan, Kashmir, Dehradun and all wildlife sanctuaries around Bangalore I came to a sad realization that each and every place had something that prevented me from going there. Be it riots, landslides or a fact that traveling 300km would take me more than 6 hours. Enter a panic stage.

To take my mind off the fact that I suddenly got stuck in suffocating Delhi, I went to check out Lodi Gardens and immediately fell in love. Shadowed by banyan and palm trees the gardens are dotted by crumbling mosques, bridges, various monuments and tombs. People come here to make out, meditate, practice tai-chi and yoga. It is even more spectacular in the moonlight. It hums with animal activity and it feels so incredibly alive.

Mumbai, Bombay – City That Never Sleeps

sunset mumbaiTo go with the flow, I purchased last minute tickets to Mumbai for the next day. I can’t stress enough, how happy I was to end up there. Mumbai with its 26 million people buzzes with activity. It took almost an hour to get from the airport to the narrow peninsula in the financial part of town called Nariman Point. Sitting at the back of the cab, breathing in all the smells and polluted air, I finally felt like I belonged.

Mumbai hums with activity. Sitting on the promenade, looking at the city lights and counting the stars (yes, you could actually see them!) is just a perfect way to spend the early evening.

Posted in Flying, Late night revelations

A Girl Who Wanted to Fly the MiGs

I always loved flying. Maybe it was the planes crossing the paths above our house or this weird restlessness of the spirit that seemed to posses me since the very beginning. I still remember my first time on the plane, the exhilarating feeling when we were taking off. It never went away.

tj__s_mig_29_by_starsaberplI would love to fly commercially but due to my very bad eyesight I don’t think it will ever be possible. If it was, I’d be already signed into Lufthansa Pilot Training. I started training for CPL – commercial private license but since I move so much I never had a chance to finish. Let’s just say I know how to fly but my landing still needs a bit of work. My favorite airline, LOT Polish Airlines, just opened a flying school in Warsaw and I am more than eager to try it out.

Dreamers cannot be tamed..

MiG-29 (2)

In my teens I used to bing watch Canada Air Force training documentary show. They had a few girls there and I daydreamed about being one of them. There are a few possibilities to fly on MiGs here in Europe, most of them offered in Russia. Cheaper options include flying MiG-15 in Poland (roughly €3000€4000) and L-39 in Germany but the nothing beats MiG-29, which unlike the other two can break the sound barrier. Mikoyan MiG29 Fulcrum is at the moment the only supersonic aircraft available to us, civilians. The edge of space flight costs €16 500 which is an outrageous price but for me it would be worth every penny. Even the location is hard to find, fligths are organized in Nizhny Novgorod, located somewhere on the outskirts of Moscow (give or take 600km).

Flying MiG-29 in the middle of Russia – that’s the dream. I already started saving up. Should I start a Kickstarter campaign perhaps?

Posted in Flying, Travel

I Fly For Miles

So you started flying more often and are wondering about the perks of airline loyalty? One would say to forget, it is useless unless you fly for business, preferably long haul. Hell, what’s the point in being loyal in times of cheap airlines and cheap fares. I am saying: “think about it”. I am an average frequent flier, skewed towards Star Alliance and flying business only once a year or whenever I get a free upgrade. Perks or no perks, I sport 3 different airline loyalty cards in my wallet: Miles & More, Flying Blue and Finnair Plus. Less is not always more. I tend to move around and even though Star Alliance has the widest route network, it´s quite impossible to relay just on that. Finnair is number one when it comes to flying to and from Finland (how surprising!), Russia and Asia. KLM is the best for trips to South America, no other carrier beats its Sao Paulo promotions and direct flights to Lima.

Alliance Rooster

Scandinavian AirlinesWhat is the most important when choosing your alliance rooster? Knowing your flying routine is the key – do you fly domestic? Regional? Oversees? Remote places? Consider also how big the alliance is and if all of the partners have the same standing. It might be possible that you won’t receive an equal amount of points/awards depending on the chosen airline. Let’s take Miles & More and Eurobonus (SAS loyalty program) for example. Assume that you will be flying Lufthansa from Copenhagen via Frankfurt to San Francisco and back directly on SAS. Miles & More card holder will get full points for each leg, Eurobonus member will receive miles only for the journey on SAS planes. At the same time, it is easier to gain Eurobonus FT status (20.000 miles versus 30.000 on Miles & More) and the awards can be a bit higher. So again the question is whether you flying domestic or international.

In Europe, flying cheap and short-haul? Consider joining Wizzar Disount Club or Norwegian Reward.

Upgrades

LOT flying kit

We all love free upgrades. I’m particularly lucky with getting upgraded, funnily enough it happens a lot when I purchase dirt cheap fares. I haven’t been actively trying for a while, but it pays off to the be the last person on the plane. Whenever they overbook the coach they will bump you automatically to premium economy or business. It happened to me earlier this summer when flying to Toronto – a super nice surprise, especially on a Dreamliner. The seating was exquisite and service was absolutely impeccable. Loved the crew and overdosed on the booze a bit. Big kudos to LOT <3. I like the idea of upgrade bidding, I bid for my flight to Delhi later this month and crossing my fingers to get it. Haven’t tried business on Finnair yet.

People & Planes

FlysasI have a knack for making new friends on the planes and at the airports in general. Somehow, I get to meet the most interesting people that way. On a delayed plane from Brussels my neighbor turned out to be a Boeing Executive, so we spent a good part of the journey chatting about aviation and flying in general. Now on the plane to Toronto I sat next to a fellow traveling enthusiast whose brother was part of the crew (*perks* included). Nine hours flew by as we swapped stories of far-away places. There was a time when I pitched my business idea while on 36000 feet above the ground and a time of once-in-a-lifetime encounters in front of the gate.

Flying can be a great adventure as long as you treat it as fun and not as a chore.

Posted in Flying, Holiday posts, Places to visit, Travel

Nordic Capitals: Copenhagen

Monocle’s champion for quality of life and now replaced with Tokyo as number one, Copenhagen is a perfect blend of Scandinavian minimalism and southern charm. Unlike other Nordic capitals it pulls you in with its vibrant city life. It’s always packed whether it’s a middle of scorching summer or a particularly cold winter (those don’t really exist in Denmark though). Copenhagen is a perfect weekend geteway but as I heard living with the Danes can be tough.

Up in the airI tend to pop in every now and then, usually few times a year since the tickets are dirt cheap (almost always) and there are people to visit on both sides of the bridge. Thanks to great transportation links you can reach Malmö in less than 30 minutes from the center of Copenhagen and around 15 minutes if traveling from the airport.

Catching up with friends from Canada and Belgium was an ideal excuse for a long weekend in Danish capital. I also assumed that getting a long-haul flight from Kastrup will be little bit easier than finding anything last minute from Helsinki (number eight on Monocle’s 2015 list). Assuming of course that you know where you are heading to. In a moment of a complete panic I purchased €1000 tickets to Toronto via Warsaw. Overpaid quite a lot but flying with LOT is definitely worth the price. Seeing friends on the way is yet another perk of multiple and long layovers.

So heading to Copenhagen on Norwegian, no frills but no disappointment either. Norwegian is like a business train in the early morning, clean, quiet and gets you to your destination on time.

Copenhagen Tips & Trics

home stays Since there were six of us we ended up renting a small house in Frederiksberg via airbnb. Copenhagen can be extremely expensive especially if you like to travel in style. You can easily spend at least €400 for a weekend at a decent 4* hotel, if you are lucky. Airbnb is the best bet, the apartment where we stayed was superb. Two bedrooms, attic, spacious living room and a terrace right in the middle of the city.

It was incredibly hot that week so our mornings were long and evenings even longer. We headed to Papirøen (Paper Island) for a day filled with good food and music. It’s Copenhagen’s first and most genuine food market with accents from around the world. After gorging on Vietnamese summer rolls and mint lemonade we stayed sunbathing in the deck chairs on the pier until it was time to go eat again.

Quick detour through the famous Christiania – free district taken over by squatters, hippies and other interesting characters. It has a strict no-photo rules so you just have to visit it yourself to see how it really is. Pots of wild weed plants flourish between the buildings and atmosphere is jovial.

Evening and through the night

copenhagen by nightWhenever I’m in the city I always make sure to visit Bento. Previously sushi restaurant now serves primarily sashimi and believe me, it’s incredible. Sake drinks and amazing Japanese whiskey perfectly complement the meal.

If you want to spend a lot of money and feel spooked the whole time, I suggest you visit Geist. Enveloping darkness, Munch-like paintings, toilets covered in mirrors and voice telling you a story. If this does not feel like a murder house, I don’t know what does. The food is adventurous and not all the pairings work that well together. I loved potato mash with löjrom that came in shaped like a brain. Wisps of cotton candy served together with the coffee took me straight back to childhood.

Get a beer or two in Kødbyen (Copenhagen’s meatpacking district), preferably at Warpigs. Word of warning, you can’t sit outside after 10PM. Tip: go for the cherry beer. More serious drinking should happen in Lidkoeb, their coctail list will blow your mind. Always opt for the upstairs. Don’t worry, they will never remember your order.

In the daylight

If you want to go around the city and see a bit, jump on a bike. Electric bycklen give you a little help with pedaling on a hot day and are equipped with a swanky navigation system. You can lock the bike if you want to take a break and it will charge your card only for the time spent actually biking. Head down to the pier and take a dip. Feels absolutely amazing!

Airport

Kastrup Aiport is one of my favorite airports out there. Easy to get to – you can reach it by train from both Denmark and Sweden. Sleek, modern with fantastic food and shopping options. Stop by Joe & The Juice for a little pick-me-up and don’t forget to buy some lovely blueberries, cherries and green peas as a plane snack from the nearby stall.

Up next: Copenhagen – Warsaw – Toronto