South America

I published my first post in April 2010. Back then, although I had already been living in Switzerland for 7 months, it was the first time I really felt lonely. It was probably when I moved from the honeymoon to frustration in the 4 phases of culture shock. Hoping to escape from this feeling of not belonging in Switzerland, I traveled as often as time (and money) would allow.

One year later, I’m now in the stage of Understanding the country, its culture and traditions. I’m learning french and enjoy my quality time at the lake or in the mountains.

For this occasion, I’ve gathered together my favorite 12 photos of 12 places I’ve visited in the last 12 months. I hope you enjoy the ride!

Sydney, Australia

Mid-May las year, I flew over to the other side of the World. My first stop was Sydney. Although I only stayed for 5 days, the city immediately hit my heart.

Having free champagne and sushi when visiting a small art auction, walking along the coast side watching business people changing their work suits for wetsuits and running off to the beach (and secretly hoping that could someday be me) and feeding kangaroos at Featherdale Wildlife Park are only some of my favorite memories of that short period of time. In less than a week, the city won my heart and obtained the second position in my Top 5 City Ranking (right after Buenos Aires).

New Zealand – North Island

Tongariro, New Zealand

Right after Sydney, we flew over to Auckland. 2 intensive weeks of road tripping from the north to the south were just ahead us! I was fascinated by the country’s geothermal activity, discovered I had the physical health of a couch potato and spent most of my extra cash in Wellington’s thrift shops.

New Zealand – South Island

Glacier Hiking, Franz Joseph, New Zealand

On an early morning, we took the ferry from Wellington to Picton and then slowly drove down to Queenstown. We stopped in Franz Joseph hoping to do a helicopter ride over the glacier, but our adventurous spirit pulled us towards the 3 and a half hours glacier hike. I never thought I’d enjoy ice this much and would do it all over again!

Annecy, France

Annecy, France

Annecy is a little Venice in France, not far away from the swiss border. Besides for being quite crowded during summer time, it’s a beautiful place to walk, eat crêpes and drink french cider.

Lavaux Region, Switzerland

Lavaux Wine Region, Switzerland

I was just celebrating my one year in Switzerland when I discovered the beautiful region of Lavaux and haven’t stopped dreaming of it ever since. Good wine, some cheese, the Alps and the lake – could there be any better combination to spend a warm summer night?

La Habana, Cuba

La Habana, Cuba

In October, my job took me to the timeless city of La Habana. During those two weeks, when I wasn’t working, I walked along its colorful streets, danced to the rhythm of casino (the real cuban salsa) and ate far too many fried banana chips. I love my job.

London, UK

London, UK

London is my safe haven – Whenever I feel lonely or just need a change, I know that this city won’t fail. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to London in the last year, but I do know that, the more I walk through its streets admiring its Victorian mansions, the more I fall in love with it.

Lanzarote, Canary Islands (Spain)

La Geria Wine Region, Lanzarote, Spain

I spent Christmas on a neighbor island – Lanzarote, particularly known for its volcanic scenery and good wine.

Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Paris and me. A Love-Hate Story. On a sunny friday afternoon, as I was on my way to the train station and return to Switzerland for the weekend, I finally decided to put my resentment aside and give the city of love a second chance. And then I fell in love again.

New York, USA

New York, USA

January 2010, I won the best prize I could ever receive at my company’s Christmas party: 2 tickets to New York! I invited one of my best friends and we had a great time – despite the big freeze.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh was one of those impulsive ticket purchases on a really low price (for swiss standards, that is) – and I’m so glad I did! It did rain all the time, but this didn’t stop me of walking its small and enchanted alleys. This is where I discovered that rainy days make out for great pictures!

Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)

Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)

Home Sweet Home. I just returned from a relaxing week in what still is one of my favorite places worldwide – How couldn’t it? Its black sand beaches and breathtaking mountain scenery, its fresh fish and good wine, my family and two cats. My one week vacation was just too short…

During my travels, I’ve seen some outstanding sunsets – each of them was different, special in a way, and has been captured in my memory ever since. Going through my pictures, I started wondering – What makes Phuket have those beautiful sunsets? And why is Africa supposed to have the best ones Worldwide? In fact, what makes the color of a sunset?

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Sunlight is composed of a spectrum of colors that range from blue/violet to orange/red. Each of the colors have a different wavelength – I don’t want to get too geeky, it’s probably easier if you picture a rainbow. The inner colours of the rainbow are violet and blue (which have the shortest wavelength); while the outer ones are orange and red, the colours with the longest wavelength.

At noon, the sun appears to be white because all wavelengths of visual light reach our eyes with almost the same intensity (remember that Pink Floyd album cover -The Dark Side of the Moon? That’s what I mean!). However, at sunrise and sunset, sunlight takes a much longer path through the atmosphere. Because air molecules scatter away the shortest wavelengths of light, the light that reaches our eyes is rather orange / red.

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand

All good – But what makes sunsets in some parts of the World more beautiful than in others?

What determines actually the kind of sunset is the size and concentration of atmospheric particles in the path of the incoming sunlight. Very small particles scatter blue and violet light preferentially, leading to a glowing orange and red sunset. A heavy concentration of small particles will create even redder sunsets.

Does that mean that if we’re somewhere with high air pollution, we’ll get to see a better sunset?

No. Pollution particles are too large, so instead of enhancing the colors of the sky, they subdue them. This is also the reason for which sunsets in deserts and the tropics are more dramatic – the air pollution is rather minimal or non-existent!

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand

Taking away pollution, there are many other smaller particles that can be floating in the air to create the perfect glowing reddish sunset, such as salt particles over the ocean, or dust and ash from a volcanic eruption.

Where have you captured your favorite sunset?

Fernando de Noronha is Brazil’s best kept secret. Still pure and simple, with little touristic influence, this archipelago has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Center back in 2001 and it’s described as the most beautiful marine park in the World. To avoid the masses, the Government limits the number of visitors to 460 at one time, which together with the 3.500 locals living there permanently, makes it really cozy. Additionally, visitors have to pay an Environmental Preservation Tax that increases progressively with the length of the visit – so the average time people stay is 3-5 days.

I visited the archipelago for 5 days about 3 years (although I wish it had stayed longer!). The highlight of the the trip – besides for the breathtaking beaches and colourful sunsets – was its underwater world.

A couple of years ago, we obtained our Scuba Diving license and, since then, attempt to dive in each of our travel destinations. It’s a lovely way to experience the place from a completely different angle!

Diving with sea turtles in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

… Dive with sea turtles in a strong current…

Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

… See colorful fish and exotic rock formations …

Scuba diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

… And meet a friendly shark! Well, he kind of looked friendly – but I didn’t want to check out. Instead, I swam towards a group of large fish I had spotted from far away until they all turned to me and I realised they were barracudas.

Maybe the shark was a better idea after all.

Which is your favourite place to go scuba diving?

La Habana, Cuba
  1. They’ve got the moves. Cubans can dance salsa (also called “casino”). If you get the chance to go to a local Cuban party, you’ll probably get to see a Rueda de Casino – a particular type of round dancing developed in La Habana in the late 50s. Pairs of dancers create a circle, in which each dance move is called out by one person in the circle. Many of these moves involve swapping partners!
  2. The Soviet Union. In 1960, Cuba signed a trade agreement (sugar / oil) with the Soviet Union – which provided the island with many Russian cars (you’ll recognise them for having a rectangular shape), as well as TVs and cameras. When driving through La Habana, it’s also easy to spot the remaining Stalinist architecture.
  3. Cuban cigars. I recently read that Cuban cigars can’t be sold in the US. There are rumours of Kennedy requesting his press secretary to get thousands of his favourite cigars to stock them up in the White House right before he signed the embargo.
  4. Cuba time. Whenever I was told “dinner is at 8” I could be sure that I would not be anywhere before 9 PM. It’s not a surprise for me, having grown up in Spain – but it is something other cultures might have difficulties adapting to.
  5. They are proud of their Rum. Cuba distills different types of rum. First, you can find white rums – which are primarily used as mixers (mostly mojitos and daiquiris). Golden or Amber rums will have spent several years ageing in oak casts and have a stronger taste, which makes them less suitable for cocktails but ideal for Cuba Libres or Rum on the rocks. And lastly, dark rums have a characteristic sweet caramel-dominated taste due to its long ageing and are mostly recommended to drink neat or on the rocks.
La Habana, Cuba

  1. One country with two currencies – The Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible (CUC). Exchange is about 25 CUP = 1 CUC = 0.78 EIR. Cubans generally get paid in CUP, and salaries average around 400-500 CUP per month (which equals 12-16 EUR). This is obviously really low, given that many consumer items now sell at international prices. As a tourist, you’ll only trade in CUCs and, unless you go off the beaten track, will never come across a CUP.
  2. The tourism industry. The education system in Cuba is enviable: school is free for everyone and it focusses on students to understand rather than memorise. Professors demand a high level of participation and students have to do a lot of research at home (mostly without internet!). In bars, restaurants and hotels, you’ll find engineers, biologists and historians, who, after graduating, realised that they’ll earn more working in tourism because of the tips in CUC.
  3. The right to buy or rent a home. When you drive across La Habana, you probably wonder who lives in all these beautiful colonial villas. Well, it could be anyone. Cubans can’t buy or rent homes – they only get their own home by inheriting it. In the case that someone leaves the country and doesn’t come back after a year, te home will fall into the hands of the Government – who will donate it to someone else.
  4. A sip of rum for the Saints. Every time a new bottle of Rum is opened, a sip is dropped to the ground and said to be offered to the Saints.
  5. What a car plate can tell about yourself. The old-timers circulating around La Habana are certainty one of many tourist attractions. However, the car plates reveal so much more about who is driving it than you may think at first. There are seven colours: the black ones (starting with TUR) are rental cars for tourists, the rend ones are rented by companies, the yellow plates indicate private cars (most of which are the classic pre-revolution cars from the 40s and 50s), green plates are for militaries, blue ones belong to the State and if you see one with a white number plate, it will probably be a government minister or another important state person.

Want to know more about Cuba? Click here to read Part II of the list.