Kuala Lumpur

Type : City break
Best Date :  May-Jul
Expense :  Cheap
Things to do : Shopping, Dine, Cultural
Points of Interest: KL menorah(tower), Petronas tower, Jalan Alor (food market), Bukit Bintang, Batu Caves, Central Market, Petalling Street and many more

Brief

Kuala Lumpur also known as KL is the capital city of Malaysia situated southwest of the country. It is the largest city in the country and is known to be the fastest growing in the ASEAN (Association of south-east Asian nations) region which include nations such as Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and a few more. Kuala Lumpur only acquired its city status in 1972 which also means it is one of the newest in the region, only being founded by Chinese miners at 1857.

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The city has influences from British, Chinese and Japanese occupation and has the architecture and cuisine to portray these.  Furthermore KL is home to one of the tallest twin towers with the Petronas towers which was built within just 6 years. The city is one of the worlds leading visited for tourism and shopping a brilliant place for all.

The Place

Kuala Lumpur was the first stop and a central base in my latest South East Asian ventures. Malaysia is the first mainly muslim country I have travelled to and Kuala Lumpur my first city. It has been a place I have intended to travel for a long time with many positive feedback and recommendations.

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When I visited the city was hot and very humid with an average of 30c-35c degrees. It was a very diverse city with many different influence in lifestyle, food and other aspects.

Because of potential flight problems I took an earlier flight, which resulted being in Kuala Lumpur a day early resulting on an extra day.

Firstly I came across Bukit Bintang which is home to various points of interest in the city itself and the preferred location to stay with hotels for any budget. The region has both luxurious and affordable establishments with the famed Pavilion mall, Times Square Mall and the cheaper Jalan Alor which is the popular food market. Firstly the focal purpose of Bukit Bintang is shopping and dining with the Pavilion mall being the main attraction. This mall has the upper class and luxurious labels such as Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada and others alike. They also have the finer restaurants around but also the popular chains. The mall itself had a beautiful architecture and is a sight to see. Next to Pavilion is a cheaper mall called Fahrenheit which also attracts shopping travellers. Further down around the corner of Bukit Bintang about 10 minutes walk from Pavilion is another mall called Times Square Mall a trendy artsy mall with many of the popular affordable shops. Lastly another main place to visit within Bukit Bintang is Jalan Alor a popular food market with plenty of local cuisines. The market is amazing however can get very crowded and is not as cheap as you might think. Overall Bukit Bintang is mainly for shopping, it is a nice central location to start off your visit it also is a convenient area to stay with nearly everything like restaurants, supermarkets and shops nearby.

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Bridge from Pavilion (Bukit Bintang) to Petronas Towers (KLCC)

Just a 10 minute walk away via a conveniently built elevated airconditioned walkway behind the Pavilion Mall is a place called Kuala Lumpur City Centre better known as KLCC which is a place where the Aquaria, Petronas Tower, Suria Mall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and others are situated. It is a more touristic area with plenty of sightseeing hotspots. Firstly one of the more family friendly attraction in KLCC is Aquaria which is located below the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre I didn’t personally visit this as I deemed it for families or kids, however ive been told it is underrated. Next in the area is the main landmark of the whole city and in my opinion the country aswell.

The Petronas towers also known as the Petronas Twin Towers  are two twin skyscrapers joined (midpoint called the skybridge) designed by an Argentine architect and built by two different companies, Japanese built tower one and a South Korean consortium built tower two. Known as the city’s crown jewel the 88 storey building is open to limited tourists per day (limited by day, limited by night) to go up and view KLs panoramic scenery. There are also high end restaurants inside the Petronas towers so those with a higher budget can dine in one of the highest points in the city. Below the towers is a popular mall called Suria Mall, this shopping area is somewhat similar to the Pavilion in terms of the shops and restaurants it accommodates. Another nearby area popular with tourists is the KLCC Park which is a nice place for tourists and locals alike to chill, there are many different trees and plants but most observed is the symphony lake which presents magical fountain shows at around 2000, 2100 and 2145 every night, it is nice to see but for me I have seen better. Overall KLCC is a nice area to visit the Petronas towers and its architectural surroundings are amazing and beautiful.

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The Kuala Lumpur Menora or Kuala Lumpur Tower which is more known to tourists is another must see landmark whilst visiting Kuala Lumpur. The tower which is the seventh largest telecommunication tower in the world has an observation deck, a revolving restaurant, sky deck, sky box and a few others. I only managed to go on the revolving restaurant called atmosphere 360, it was a good experience that had marvellous views of the city. Surrounding the tower is Kuala Lumpur Eco Park which is an interesting visit in itself. Like a botanical garden this parks has plenty different plants and trees. What’s more enjoyable about this Eco Park is the canopy walk which takes people into a nice desired height to enjoy and observe the park from a panoramic view.

Other places popular to visit are the markets. I visited two of the city’s main markets, the Central Market and Petalling Street which is also known to be the city’s China town. Firstly the Central Market, which sells local handicrafts and eateries. Before visiting the place I thought it would be a local wet market selling produce but it was very focused selling to tourists. The Market was an interesting place to walk around which has had its own story to tell, you can appreciate the local Malaysian creativity. The market also offers delicious local delicacies such as durian, you would not be let down if you come here. Petalling  Street which is a short 10min walk from the Central Market is another popular place for tourists. Known as KL’s china town this area has many different street foods and cheap products. Also roamed by locals these side streets can also be a shoppers haven, a place where your haggling skills can be tested.

Just outside of Kuala Lumpur in the region known as Selangor which circles around the capital is home to one of the most famous points of interest in the ‘Batu Caves’ which is a limestone hill that has a series of caves which consist of over 100 year old Hindu temples. Firstly on the front there is a large golden (painted) statue of Lord Muragan in whom the temples are dedicated to. This statue is significant to the country as it is also the  largest at 43 metres high. Past the statue is 272 steps which lead up to the temple caves. These steps which have recently been coloured are somewhat obstacles for religious pilgrims. Whilst climbing these steps monkeys are ever present, they are very nice to take pictures with but be careful these monkeys are known to steal food and water, they will also bite if felt threatened. After the steps the cave is amazing and picturesque there are a lot of Hindu idols statues around and there temples are very active in prayers. The Batu cave is a must whilst visiting Malaysia it is free and there are no touts or vendors annoying tourists, the only thing you would need to think about is what you wear. It is a religious place and respectful attire are required, stricter for women than men.

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A popular thing to do whilst staying in Kuala Lumpur is to do a day excursions. I visited Kuala Gandah which was just over an hour drive from the capital. Kuala Gandah is usually visited for the National Elephant Conservation Centre (NECC) which is a retreat for rescued elephants, so visiting this facility is helpful to the creatures whilst a brilliant experience and spectacle to those who visit. In the conservation you will watch a short 30min video about the rescued animals, feed, learn and watch a show about these majestic giants. You will also be able to bath with baby elephants which is a popular thing to do for many tourists.

Conclusion

Overall Kuala Lumpur was an eye opener, it is definitely one of my favourite capitals I have visited just because of its culture and the amount of things you can see and do. The city is cheap but can be a luxurious as you want it to be. There is also a lot that can be done whatever your age, interest and budget. My particular favourite is the Elephant conservation centre which highlighted the importance of protecting elephants but any creatures altogether, which is something special to learn especially for tourists from large cities that don’t know about these problems. Another place I loved about KL is the Petronas Towers which is just an architectural spectacle from any angle.

A visit to Kuala Lumpur is something any traveller must do, nice people, delicious food, eye opening culture and outstanding architecture, you cant go wrong.

Back to “A small circuit around south east Asia”

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Reference:

15 Interesting Facts About Kuala Lumpur
http://www.petronastwintowers.com.my/en https://menarakl.com.my/index.php/the-tower/about-us
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Tallinn (Estonia)

Type : City Break
Best Date: ?
Expense: Medium
Things to do: Shopping, City tours
Points of Interest: Estonian History Museum, Oleviste Church, Tallinn TV Tower, Kadriorg Palace and the Town Wall ect

Brief

Estonia is a small country in Europe just celebrating 100 years of its initial independence  from the breakdown of the soviet union in 1918. Its capital is Tallinn where first settlers dates back 5000 years which makes this city one of northern Europe’s oldest capitals. Today the city has a population of around 444,085 about a third of Estonia’s total population of 13.3million.

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The Place

Estonia’s capital Tallinn was the last place I visited from my Finland/Estonia trip. My first impressions of the city was that it was too quiet and there was not too much going on. I also had the impression that Tallinn was not huge on tourism as I only saw locals and workers on my journey from the airport to the city centre, not a single tourist which was a very new experience from any trips ive done. Furthermore the journey to my hotels was not very easy for a newbie tourist like me, I had to use google map and even ask a friendly local for help, even with these I still managed to get lost. In addition paying and using the trams were also confusing, although very cheap at 1 euro there was no way to pay using cash and I believe everybody has a special travel card (like the oyster card in London), I could also hardly find any ticket machines even at larger bus stations.

Tallinn is very small and the main area to visit is the Vanalinn district or the Old Town which has one of the best preserved medieval structures in Europe. Along with all the winding cobblestone streets, gothic spires and fairy tale like architecture, stories within the city will both amaze and enchant you. Within the old town there is a huge collection of different points of interests for tourists, you will probably pass along many of their significant buildings but not notice them. Best way to see the town is by joining the free walking tour which can be arranged in the tourist information centre situated in the middle of the old town.

From my perspective the best places to see in the old town are the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Vanalinn district, Toompea castle and a few others. Firstly you must visit the Alexander Nevsky cathedral which graces Toompea Hill, this orthodox church built by the Russians during their occupation of the capital in around late 1890 to early 1900. The cathedral was frowned upon by many Estonians around 1924 due to the symbol of Russian oppression and was due for demolition however with lack of funds this was never implemented and its beautiful architecture still stands today. Neighbouring the cathedral is Toompea Castle which was an ancient stronghold but now houses the country’s parliament. The castle has both a unique blend of modern and old whereas the walls and towers are of the ancient stronghold whilst the entrance is of modern designs. Behind the building stands the Tall Hermann an important tower which stands high above Tallinn which currently holds the Estonian flag and has held flags of different occupants of the capital.

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A three minute walk from Toompea in a more secretive area lies the Danish King’s Garden which is a brilliant place to find. There are many different legendry stories that has happened here but most notable of a falling flag which changed the favour of the battle to King Valdemar II. The small garden is a brilliant place to stop by and relax, there are also a few vendors here for quick snacks. Also situated within the garden are three statues of headless Monks one of which is praying, another that is begging and the last which keeps watch. There is a few different meanings to these three statues but its erection is unlike no other in the world.

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There are two amazing views high above Tallinn the Kohtuotsa viewing platform and the Patkuli viewing platform. The two different platform are difficult  to find with the maze like footprint of the town, but once found these picturesque sights are a pleasure to see.

Yearly around mid November Tallinn is especially a nice place visit due to their charming Christmas Market which is famous around the world. Situated in the town hall square the market hosts a number of stalls ranging from food, clothing, souvenirs and traditional products around a central Christmas tree and a stage for festive performances.

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Probably one of the cover landmark of Tallinn is the Viru Gates which was part of the city’s defence on the 14th century. These two towers are now a popular place for photographs and are said to be the main entrance to the old town.

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You will see plenty of different significant churches spread out in different locations around the old town. St Nicholas Church, Swedish St Michaels church, Holy Spirit Church and many more are worth the visit. All have different stories which may be of interest to you. There many also many other attractions outside of the old town which are worth a visit like the Kadriog Art Museum, Maritime Museums, Open Air Museum and others a like, but I didn’t have the chance to see these as I took my trip to Tallinn pretty easy and relaxed and ran out of time.

Lastly another important monument to visit which unfortunately was under refurbishment when I visited is the War of Independence Victory Column, which is situated in Freedom Square. 

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This picture taken from (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hanspoldoja/7045958209)

Conclusion

Overall Tallinn is a beautiful little city brilliant for an excursion whilst visiting other Baltic or Nordic regions. The city has both new and old attractions and particularly appeals in the winter festive season as its Christmas markets has always been highly received. I do feel their public transport trams and buses to be highly impractical for tourists. However Tallinn is small enough to be able to walk around without the need of transport. The city is affordable and couple of days is enough anything more may result in boredom, saying this if you stay longer it is a brilliant city to take it easy and relax as I did. All in all a thumbs up for me, the city’s charm is unlike no other.

Back to ‘Two Countries, Three Capitals’

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Reference:

https://www.visitestonia.com/en/why-estonia/estonia-facts
https://www.worldscapitalcities.com/capital-facts-for-tallinn-estonia/

 

Rovaniemi (Finland)

Type : Family, Adventure
Best Date :  Dec-March
Expense :  Very expensive
Things to do : Northern Lights, Husky tours, Reindeer tours, Snowmobile, Snowshoe, ect
Points of Interest: Santa Claus Village, Santa Park, Arktikum science museum, city centre, ect

Brief

Rovaniemi is a city north of Finland known to be the home of the world famous fictional festive figure Santa Claus. The city is also the capital of Lapland and is home to the Arktikum one more famed museums for science in the artic region. Rovaniemi also crosses the Artic circle which only covers a division of a few countries.

The Place

Rovaniemi was the second city I visited on my trip to Finland and Estonia. There are many reasons why I wanted to visit this winter wonderland, for snow, for the different winter activities, for the winter culture and finally as the city is famed for being the official home of Santa Claus the festive magic. I flew into Rovaniemi from Helsinki on a 1.5 hour flight and arrived early morning to a sleeping city (I guess they have late nights here). As check ins in many hotels are late around (3pm), an early arrival to the city proves a little difficult. First thing is first to try and drop my baggage somewhere then I am free to roam. The main thing to do is leave your luggage at your hotel (sometimes they may even let you check-in), but if you do not have a hotel ie Airbnb or apartment then there are various bag drops around the city including the airport and shopping centres. Furthermore it is a usual occurrence where visitors do not have the correct clothing for the winter weather. If you get caught out by the cold there are many places where you can rent winter clothing, accessories and shoes.

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Once you are ready, the city is a pleasure to roam, everything I write will be expressed in a winter season. Rovaniemi does not have plenty of attractions but the scenery around are some of the best picturesque scenery you will ever see. Take note that some places are within the city centre but others are a ride away, there is little public transport but if you join a tour or activities usually they will pick you up, other than that it may be a good idea to rent a car.

Firstly I’ll start with the main stage for Rovaniemi, ‘Santa Claus Village’ which is a multiplex resort famous for being the home of Santa. This attraction which is open throughout the year and has various accommodations, souvenir shops, pubs, restaurants, and a number of amusements making the attraction a world of its own. However the main reason why this place is so important and visited by masses each year is that this is the main place to see Santa Claus in the place he is known to live. When I visited, there was a little line. Furthermore, Santa’s post office is also situated here where you can send letters and the recipient will receive a special artic seal.

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The Arktikum is a magnificent science museum which fixates on the artic and northern studies. The museum is in my opinion the only major attraction within Rovaniemi city centre. Permanent exhibitions include “Northern Ways”, “Polar Opposites”, “Finland on the Coast of Artic Ocean” and the “Artic Change”. Further to that there are plenty of temporary exhibitions which changes occasionally. In my opinion the Arktikum is a brilliant visit whilst in Rovaniemi, its good to enjoy the Lapland and the artic but knowing the science behind it is equally as important.

Other attractions to visit  are Santa Park and Ranua zoo which I didn’t personally visit as I would expect these to be a heavily for families with young children. Santa park is a indoor theme park according to their website the best Christmas destination in the world. Situated near Santa Village this theme park includes elf schools, ice galleries, ginger bread making and much more alike. Ranua zoo which would be like no other zoo in the world as its animal residents are of the artic and northern species, including polar bears, reindeers, artic fox, brown bear and a lot more. This attraction as the name states is situated in Ranua which is an hour drive from Rovaniemi, there is daily bus service from Rovaniemi to the Zoo. However if you book a tour this will usually include the transport.

Apart from attractions people go to Rovaniemi for the many winter activities and tours. Popular activities include the reindeer sleigh, husky sleigh, snow mobile, snow shoe, ice fishing and many more. Tours include the aurora safaris, amethyst mines, Korouma and others alike.  There is numerous different activity and tour operators and each activity was very expensive so I only managed to do two, a husky sleigh safari with “Husky Point” and a night snowmobile aurora tour with “Wild Nordic”. The husky sleigh safari which  would normally need a minimum of two people was fun and a great adrenaline rush, it started from an early pickup from my hotel, gear fitting and a tutorial.  The sleighs were divided into two parts, the passenger and the driver which you will take turns, hence two people required however if you are a solo traveller like me you will be riding with the guide. The husky dogs were unbelievably fast and the scenes seen from the safari was unbelievable. After about a 20-30 minutes ride, you stop over a brilliant scenic hill top with a hut for berry juice and biscuits. After a changeover of drivers you will then head back and will be toured around their farm. After your time at the farm you will then be driven back to your hotel.

 

The night snowmobile aurora tour was also a fantastic experience, you will aswell be picked up from your hotel, dressed and go for a tutorial. You start by walking 10minutes to the location of the snowmobiles then after you will get further training on the vehicles. This particular tour was nice but there was little to nothing to see whilst on the trail. You will stop at a quarter point to check if everyone in the group is ok, then you will go ahead to the mid point where you will stay an hour or two to hopefully picnic under the northern lights. Unfortunately for me there was nothing to see and the chances was only a level 1. However all was not lost as the experience of the picnic under the night sky on a snowy swamp was unlike no other. The picnic included sausages and marshmallows to be cooked on the camp fire whilst sipping on some hot berry juice. An outstanding tour however out of the two the husky tour had more of an adrenaline rush.

Lastly Rovaniemi is just a pleasant region to roam whether within inner or outer edge of the city centre, forest or into the artic circle the capital has spectacular sights. The city centre is relatively small, there is various restaurants scattered around, a high street and two malls for shopping. The city centre has a few scenic walk paths on the edge of the centre one of which I took passes the Arktikum and has views of the frozen river. There is also an artic hike path which I wanted to take but didn’t have the time.

Conclusion

Overall Rovaniemi was everything I thought it would be, a heart warming winter wonderland for young families with winter activities for both young and old. Rovaniemi proved to be very expensive for nearly all the aspects of travel including transport, hotels, food, activities and also souvenirs. Nonetheless the city is a brilliant place to visit as there is something for the everyone. Although there is only a few attractions its beautiful scenery makes Rovaniemi great for photo opportunities. Best to stay for a duration of 3-5 days but this may be a little heavy on your pocket. It is ok to visit Rovaniemi as a solo traveller but it may be better to visit with someone as many of their activities requires a minimum of two people. In conclusion I highly recommend Rovaniemi as a festive trip for families to feel the full scale of the city’s magic, however travelling with friend or solo wouldn’t be bad at all as there is just so many things to do.

Back to “Three countries, two capitals”

 

Reference

https://santaparkarcticworld.com/santaparkhttps://santaparkarcticworld.com/santapark

Two Countries Three Capitals

My last trip of 2018 and I have decided to fulfil a winter trip north of Europe into Finland and Estonia. Whilst in these two countries I have decided to visit three capitals, Helsinki the capital of Finland, Rovaniemi capital of Lapland in Finland and finishing the trip with Tallinn the capital of Estonia.

I had an open plan and didn’t cement the duration of each stay so my trip depended factors such as activities and whether or not  there was much to visit. (click on the headers below to read more)

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First Stop Helsinki

Landing in Helsinki which will be a centre base for me. An easy public transport for tourists like me to use.

Next Stop Rovaniemi

Maybe one of the main purpose of the trip was to see Lapland and enter the artic circle. This winter wonderland really did shape the trip.

Back to Helsinki

I used Helsinki as my base so really as there was no flights direct from Rovaniemi to Tallinn. But instead of directly transiting through I thought to stopover for a night to visit other areas I didn’t manage to visit.

The Finale in Tallinn Estonia

A worthy relaxing end to the trip. Three days in the Estonian Capital, probably one of the most difficult public transport for tourists but once within the inner city a pleasure to get around by walking.

 

Helsinki (Finland)

Type : City break
Best Date :  ?
Expense :  Expensive
Things to do : Shopping, Dine, Cultural, Christmas market,
Points of Interest: Senate square, market square, Temppeliaukio Church, Suomenlinna, Helsinki central station, Uspenski cathedral, Kamppi Chapel, Sibelius Monument.

Brief

Helsinki is the capital city of Finland and the country’s largest with around 600,00 in population. According to various sources Helsinki is one of the best places to live and has the better standard of living around the world. Although Helsinki’s population grows every year it is still considered one of the smallest.

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The Place

Helsinki was the central point for me on my  travels to Finland and Estonia. I stayed in the capital first then branched back and forth to Rovaniemi and Tallinn eventually ending and flying back home from the city.

Before the trip my research into the city showed that there was not plenty of attractions or points of interest within the city, it also doesn’t have a monument or building with the magnitude comparing to the Eiffel tower or statue of liberty. However my first impressions of the city was that it was very artistic or art conscious with plenty of the streets having its own decorative designs, even as simple as a street light had a modern imaginative design. As you start to roam the city in depth you will start to realise why the city is one of the best cities to live in (according to metropolis 2016), and not such a bad place to visit as a tourist.

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Helsinki Cathedral

Firstly a must visit for tourists is the Helsinki cathedral which is situated in the Senate square. Built around 1852 this Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral which is operational and performs mass services proves to be the main stage for tourism in the capital. The cathedral which has huge historical significance to the city proves to be an area where tourists flock to take pictures. Senate square marks the centre of old Helsinki and is a good example of neoclassical architecture, the square is surrounded by the government palace and the main building of Helsinki University and the Library of Finland all equally as picturesque within the square. Furthermore the city’s main Christmas market is placed here at the start of December each year. In my opinion the market was the cleanest and neatest of all Christmas markets ive been to its relaxing ambience and sauna was something new, but it was too quiet for my liking. Nonetheless their products were much better quality than that of other markets and food were outstanding. The Christmas market is worth a visit if your around the city at that time but I wouldn’t set up a trip solely for this market.

Other churches that are worth a visit are Temppeliaukio church, Uspenski cathedral and Kamppi Chapel. Firstly the Uspenski orthodox cathedral which was built around 1868 is advertised as one of the city’s main place to visit, with its red bricks and golden cupolas the building is and interesting place to visit. Although a great piece of architecture with a nice of history for me it wasn’t something spectacular and I see plenty places of worship on par with this one. A more modern religious structure which was only completed on 2012 is the Kamppi Chapel. Built with local Finnish wood  in the centre of one of the city’s busiest street the chapel also takes the name of “Chapel of silence” as it is meant to be a place of calm a serenity within the city. Lastly in my opinion one of the most fascinating place to visit in Helsinki is the Temppeliaukio church which is unlike no other church I have ever seen from all my visits. The architecture is different in that the building is excavated straight under solid rock, its roof is a large copper dome like plate supported into the rock by beams and when the sun shines proves to be a spectacular sight to see.  The church built by architect Tuomo Suomalainen on 1969 is the best spot I visited in the city and I highly recommend this place.

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Temppeliaukio church

The Sibelius monument built in dedication for the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius  located in Sibelius park is in my opinion the best piece of art work within the city. Built with 600 hollow steel organ pipes built in a wave to portray sound waves with the composers face protruding in front of the monument is a nice sight to see whilst walking around a admirable park.

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Sibelius Monument, photo by Rob Hurson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/robhurson/16194439692)

Another popular place for tourists is a visit to Suomenlinna island . I did not particularly have time to visit this place as I ran out of time but am told this is another must go area to visit. Reached by boat included in the day passes or tickets in the ordinary machines around the city the island has enough to consume a full day. The UNESCO world heritage site use to be a fortress for the Fins, Swedes and Russians. The island has beautiful sights, museums , restaurants and cafes.

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Photo by Michal Pise

Helsinki central station is another place to see. You wouldn’t need to go out of your way to come across the central station as it will probably connect your hotel and any points of interests you visit. The station was voted the worlds most beautiful station in the world in 2013 (BBC) and has consistently been within the top batch each year in various lists. The station initially opened on 1862 but grew after a competition on 1904 where it was then designed by  Finnish Eliel Saarinen and reopened 1919. The station has 4 large sentry statues which hold spherical globes illuminated oversee the masses of people go in and out of the station, this is the sight to see.

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Other places to see is Market square and the city’s various shopping districts. The Market square which is in the eastern most part of the city nearby the senate square and adjacent to the presidential palace is another of the most recommended areas to visit by various tourism media. Why? I am not too sure why. I visited the area three occasions during my visit at various different times but I didn’t see the charm of it.  However shopping in Helsinki in the many different districts or malls is a must. The many places such as Kamppi centre, Galleria Esplanade and Kluuvi shopping centre is just some of the places for a nice shopping atmosphere. Beware that items in Finland is a bit more expensive than others countries in Europe. 

I don’t usually recommend particular restaurants or bars but the ‘Oluthuone Kaisla’ 10minutes from the Central station is one of the best craft beer in town, It was a brilliant atmosphere whilst visiting two friends that I met in a backpacking trip in Peru. There were a huge choice of beverages including Finnish and Estonian Beers. It was fairly relaxed and quiet when I went there but am told weekends is busy. One of the highlights of my visit.

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Conclusion

Helsinki does not have any attractions that would compare with the magnitude of Paris’s Eiffel tower, New York’s time square or London’s Big Ben however the city’s beauty is with its lifestyle, arts and atmosphere. Within the city and from the airport Helsinki had one of the easiest public transport system from all the places I have been which is always a big plus for me and would be for tourist in general. Nonetheless once within the city all attractions are a walkable distance. However the city was expensive which wouldn’t be very attractive for the common traveller. Overall all I can say is Helsinki is a beautiful place to unwind get to know new cultures, try new beers and appreciate some history, you have to be open minded as the city isn’t as extravagant as other European capitals but it does have brilliant characteristics. A two to three day stint in the city is enough time to roam the city and enjoy its prestige.

Travelling around Helsinki
Back to “Two Countries, Three Capitals”

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Reference:

https://www.travelonspot.com/en_GL/article/travel-journal/holiday-corner/top-7-interesting-facts-about-helsinki
https://www.stat.fi/tup/satavuotias-suomi/suomi-maailman-karjessa_en.html
https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do/sights/senate-square
https://www.hel.fi/helsinki/en/socia-health/income/resident/chapel/

A Quick Tour of Japan

This was my first trip to one of the richest and most powerful country in Asia, one which has rich history and best preserved tradition. I expected a very busy working country and also the most technologically advanced. My trip consisted of three of Japans most notable cities or prefectures (as its known) in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. I only had a total of 6 days and took the local trains to travel around except for a flight to Tokyo. I saw the most modern side of Japan but also its magical history and culture all whilst experiencing Japans world famous dishes.

Please click on the cities below to see how my journey went.

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First Stop Osaka

First part and entry point of my Japan trip was Osaka, starting with a busy airport and a confusing transport to our hotel. City looked industrial with many modern amusements.

Next Stop Kyoto

 A tiring start to the Kyoto experience, as we used a very busy commuter train to travel from Osaka. Although it rained on our Kyoto visit, the city definitely had character.

The Finale in Tokyo

The last city on my Japan trip, a bustling mega city.

 

 

 

Tokyo

Type : City
Best Date : 
Sep-Nov, Mar-May
Expense :
Expensive
Things to do : Sightseeing, Dining, Shopping, kart tours, ect
Points of Interest: Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Senso-Ji, Ueno Park, Ginza District, ect
The Good: Friendly and respectful people
The Bad: Very complex and busy public transport, Expensive

Brief

Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) is the capital and the largest city of Japan. However the city or prefecture was not always the country’s capital, as this always moved around depending on where Japan’s emperors wanted them. Furthermore greater Tokyo is said to be the most populated city (according to worldatlas) and known to be an alpha world city the largest modern metropolis in the world.

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The Place

Tokyo was the third and last city I visited during my tour of Japan. My expectations before I visited was a bustling metropolis full of the most modern technologies and infrastructure. Researching before my travels I found the city to be very reputable, which has more acclaimed restaurants than anywhere in the world, even more than Paris. Furthermore it is said to be one of the most safest capitals in the world with the lowest crime rates  than any around the world especially against tourists.

Firstly one of the must do activity in Tokyo is shop, as the city known as the best tax free shopping around the world. Ginza is an upmarket district in central Tokyo which has the most famous brands such as Gucci, Armani, Chanel and many alike. Furthermore many nightclubs, hotels, cafes and restaurants are also around here.

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Another shopping area in Tokyo that centre around the younger audience is Harajuku and Aoyama. This is a small narrow street bustling with affordable garments, accessories, toys and adventurous deserts , souvenirs are also found here and I believe the best place to buy them.

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Shinjuku is also another place for shopping, and centred around the middle working class community. Here there are the  more affordable brands such as Uniqlo, Lumine, Muji and others alike. 20180601_013022

However probably one of the most famous shopping district around the world, due to its bustling atmosphere is Shibuya. Most notable for the ‘Shibuya Crossing’ which has featured in many movies such as ‘Lost in translation’, ‘Fast and the furious’ and ‘Resident Evil’. The crossing is said to be the busiest intersection worldwide and is beautiful moreover at night when all the lights make for a great picture phot opportunity. Restaurants fill the streets in this area and there are a lot more amusements such as arcades, karaoke and clubs.

Apart from shopping there are also various attractions you could visit in Tokyo, its newest attraction which opened in 2012 is the ‘Tokyo Sky Tree’, this is a broadcast centre which is fast becoming the city’s cover attraction. Including restaurants and a observation deck this building is inspired by traditional Japanese architecture and is a great place to go if you are looking to see the city from a different view.

A much older point of interest in Tokyo is the ‘Meji Shrine’ which is not too far from the world famous ‘Shibuya’. This shrine is located in a calm tranquil area in the middle of the beautiful ‘Yoyogi  park’, which is again a sight to see in the cherry blossom season. Completed in 1920 the shrine which is dedicated to the Emperor ‘Meji’ and Empress ‘Shoken’ is surrounded by ‘Meji Shingu’s Forest’ which is entered through 2 large ‘Torii Gates’ one in the northside and the other southside. Pass these gates there is still a serene 10 minute walk to the shrines complex and upon arriving there is plenty exhibitions such as banzai trees, artwork, rituals and many others. The complex itself had various traditional architecture which is an excellent place for photographer type tourists and is a definite must whilst visiting Tokyo. There is a lot to see in the vicinity of the forest and you may stumble upon the ‘Kiyomasa Wells’ and the ‘Sake Barrels‘. Overall I believe that this was the best place to visit in Tokyo.

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‘Tsukiji Hongwanji’ is an operating Buddhist temple with free admission for tourists. It is a landmark for the Tsukuji area. Built on 1657 this temple has had huge historic significance. For me it was just a simple touch and go visit, so I am unable to give more information.

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Next to the temple is ‘Tsukiji Fish market’ a haven for fish or sushi lovers, a place where wholesale fish occurs, viewers are able to observe tuna auctions. Moreover there are plenty sushi restaurants where you are able dine and also learn the trade. Other produce are also sold here so for any food lovers this market is worth visiting.

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Lastly the ‘Imperial Palace’ which is the current residence of Japans Imperial family. It is actually the location of where Edo castle used to be. An interesting fact was that the palace was destroyed during the world war but then rebuilt in the same way afterwards. Similar to that of Osaka castle the imperial palace is bordered by huge stone walls and bridges which are appealing but does get in the way of a good picture. Take note no visitors are allowed inside the complex nor the buildings, however guided tours are available for the palace grounds.

Other places to visit are the ‘Senso-Ji Temple’, ‘Mount Fuji’ and various other museums and parks but I didn’t have time to visit them so I wont write about them.

Conclusion

All in all Tokyo was an interesting metropolis, it was definitely the busiest place ive been, a working city just like London. However unlike Kyoto and its magnificent shrines, in my opinion Tokyo’s main appeal for tourism is its shopping and dining as it doesn’t have many historic buildings. In my opinion a 3 or 4 days visit is enough in the city, stay very close to central of Japan and most places should be walking distance.

Back to my Japan Trip
Reference:

According to worldatlas.com  (Population)
https://www.factinate.com/places/30-interesting-facts-tokyo/
http://www.globalblue.com/destinations/japan/tokyo/top-ten-most-interesting-facts-on-tokyo

Kyoto

Type : City, Provincial
Best Date : Feb-May
Expense : Expensive
Things to do : Sightseeing, religious prayers, dining, shopping, dress up in kimono, ect
Points of Interest: Nijo Castle, Fushimi-Inari, Kiyomizu-Dera, Gion, Kyoto Impreial Castle, Nishi Hogan-Ji, ect
The Good: Best preserved Japanese culture
The Bad: Generally expensive

Brief

Kyoto is another of Japans former capitals. Rich and famous for is various Buddhist temples, shrines, gardens, imperial palaces and wooden houses. The Prefecture or city is said to be the historical and cultural centre of the country with its traditional society, dining and architecture still experienced today. The kaiseki dining and the female entertainers known as geishas are found within this city.

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The Place

Getting a train from Osaka to Kyoto (S rapid train) within 30minutes was amazing to say the least, even though it was very busy and crowded. I was expecting to get out of a very rural small station but was surprised to arrive to a large station just like Osaka central. Walking out of the station I was starting to get a vibe that Kyoto was anything but provincial but another metropolis.

I arrived in Kyoto in the evening and planned to check-in and head straight out to visit what I could. The first building you see once stepping out of the main entrance of the station is ‘Kyoto Tower’ which is an observation tower overlooking the city, I didn’t enter the building but ive heard its a sight to see. After we planned a trip to a place called Shijo Dori (Shijo Street) to have something to eat and see what the nightlife is like as it was also the area for their clubs and bars. Walking around the streets there were plenty of shops some more traditional than others. Arcades were also a big thing around these streets and can get very busy with local children, some even still in their school uniform.

The next morning we went to ‘Fushimi Inari-Taisha’ it rained but this gave our experience a little more character. Dating back to year 794 when Kyoto was capital, this shrine is one of the most important which is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari. The iconic shrine is famous for having over a thousand orange vermilion torii gates which routes up mount Inari and into the wooden forest. The experience was incredible, the whole visit took about 3-4 hours in total trekking up and down the shrine. There were plenty of stops and different shrines to visit. I saw lots of fox statues and didn’t know what they were for till I found out that foxes are seen to be the messenger for the God Inari. The top of the mountain (shrine) was a bit of an anti climax (in my opinion) as there was nothing different than the various shrines that you pass along the way.

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After hiking for almost 3-4 hours, we went back to Shijo street then got something to eat in ‘ Nishiki market’ which is known to have the best traditional food in the city.

On that same day we also visited the ‘Kiyomizu- Dera’ which is a one of Kyoto’s notable attractions. ‘ Kiyomizu Dera’ is a huge Buddhist temple which is significant to the city and named a UNESCO world heritage site. When I visited the main building was being refurbished and had plenty of scaffolding and a cover, so it wasn’t as picturesque as it would normally be. Nonetheless the Kiyomizu-Dera is one of Kyoto’s main attractions and must be visited, even with all the construction the place was still very beautiful and scenic.

‘Gion’ is also an excellent place to visit especially in ‘ Hanamikoji Dori’ the street famous for the Geisha tradition. Filled with long-established wooden buildings, this area is also famous for its traditional dining and hospitality. The walk is only about 10 minutes from one end to the other and the Geishas are rarely seen, there are very strict rules in the street which include no touching of the geishas, selfie sticks, littering and others alike. Take note although dining here is a must, it is very expensive.

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Nishi-Hogan-Ji is another place that should be visited as it is the largest school for a particular type of Buddhism. Here you will find beautiful large traditional Japanese architecture.

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One place that is not really advertised for tourist to visit is actually an observation point above Kyoto station. Here there are views of Kyoto but the most observed are its stairs with LED lights acting like one huge screen where short light shows happen. I don’t know a special name for this place but yeah, the light stairs!

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Conclusion

Kyoto was the best place I went to in for Japanese culture and history. I was expecting a provincial rural atmosphere but was surprised that the whole city looked like a miniature Osaka and Tokyo with many lit up and technological areas such as ‘Gion’. Although it rained when I was there, this only just gave the city more character. Tourists rent Kimonos and Geisha outfits whilst around the city. This was interesting as this is not done in any other place around the world with their local traditional outfits. I did however under estimate the time I needed in the city, so there were plenty more places I haven’t visited.

Back to my Japan Trip
Reference:

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html

Photo:

www.circumnavacation.com (Kyoto station light show)
663highland (Nishi Hogan Ji)

Osaka

Type : City
Best Date : 
Don’t Know
Expense :
Expensive
Things to do : Eat, Theme Parks,
Points of Interest: Osaka castle, Universal Studio, Dotonbori, Osaka Aquarium, Umeda Sky Building
The Good: Excellent food, Very nice people
The Bad: Most confusing train system (Japan in general), Expensive

Brief

Osaka (formerly known as Naniwa) was the first known capital of Japan. Today it is the second largest metropolis in the country behind the country’s current capital ‘Tokyo’. Osaka was destined to be the political centre of Japan as the then general ‘Toyotomi Hideyoshi’ chose this city to build his castle only for his successor to shift the power to Tokyo.

Osaka is known for its food, nightlife and architecture especially in the Dotonbori.

The Place

Osaka was the first city I visited in Japan and my first impressions was that it was an industrial city as I saw plenty factories whilst travelling from the airport to my hotel.

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We stayed at the ‘Keihan Universal Tower Hotel’ near the ‘Universal Studios’ theme park.  Although far and complicated to travel to ‘central Osaka’ and other significant attractions in the city, it was a good clean area with its own characteristics. The area which is just outside the theme park is known as Universal citywalks it was a very lively place from early morning till about 11pm in the night full of performers, restaurants and other amusements. Food is plentiful and although expensive there are various local and western cuisine to choose from, whether a quick snack or finer dining ‘citywalks ‘ caters to all.  The nearest station ‘Universal city’ can get very busy at peak hours in the morning and evening from tourists entering and exiting the theme park, so if staying in the area it is would be good to plan timings of when to roam.

Universal studios was a great outing, but you will have to leave a whole day.

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Another Place we visited in Osaka is Dotonbori a very famous place for nightlife and dining, one of Osaka’s principal tourist destinations. Best visited at night the street which runs along the Dotonbori canal is lit by many luminous flashing lights full of different colours and shapes which equates to stunning photographic opportunities. Here we found a brilliant Japanese restaurant (forgot the name) where we tried the famous Wagyu beef.

Shinsabashi which is the next road parallel to Dotonbori is also a booming place at night, full of restaurants , bars, clubs and a traditional market.

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Probably the cover attraction of the city is ‘Osaka castle’ which centres ‘Osaka castle Park’. The park in itself is beautiful and around the ‘cherry blossom’ season  it is said to be a sight to see. In the middle of the park is two large ring lakes surrounded by amazing thick steep stone walls which were built to protect the castle in the early years as this was a frequent battle ground. These walls are impressive and there are boat tours to see these walls closer. Furthermore around the park there are many attractions such as shrines, various gardens, an American world war factory, baseball field and an outdoor events stage. Various restaurants, cafes and food stalls are inside the park which is very convenient as the park is huge and can take a whole day to roam. However the main attraction of the park is the ‘Osaka castle’ and its ‘Museum’, in my opinion the outside (of the castle) is impressive but  inside not too much, although it has plenty of historic artefacts.

Central Osaka (Umada district) is not much of a haven for tourist but a nice place to visit anyway. Here you can go shopping with many different modern outlets and dine at some of the city’s finest restaurants. ‘Osaka Station’ in itself is a nice place and aight to see, although very busy with workers there are many places to unwind.

Just outside Osaka station you will see the famous and spectacular ‘Umada sky building’ with the ‘Kuchu Teien Observation deck’ which is a floating garden above the two towers. Here you can see the whole of Osaka.

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Lastly another place that must be visited whilst in the city is ‘Kaiyukan Osaka Aquarium’, which is one of the largest in the world. A popular amusement and one in a few which houses the enormous  whale shark which they also use as their mascot. This aquarium has been the best so far with a diverse collection of creatures from mammals such as sealions and seals, birds such as penguins and the many fishes from around the world. The ‘Tempozan Ferris wheel’ and ‘Legoland’ are also based within the area, however I didn’t bother going to them as I believe they are more for the younger audiences.

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There are other places to see in the Osaka prefecture (city) that I didn’t or couldn’t visit due to the time I had. I decided to leave shrines and temples for my next city (prefecture) Kyoto as that was the place for it. Otherwise the only places I missed out were other districts and amusements such as Tennoji zoo.

Conclusion

My visit to Osaka City (Osaka prefecture)was interesting and a good place to start my whole Japan experience. The best way I could describe it was a smaller more conservative Tokyo (in my opinion). The city was busy and full of people with the train systems (like many in Japan) were a bit more complicated than other countries. There was plenty to do and visit in Osaka but the majority are modern amusements like the Universal studios, Lego land or Osaka aquarium. Osaka is not a place if you want to see shrines and temples as there is little to none, with the only significant historic structure is the castle.

Back to my Japan Trip

 

Reference:

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2157.html

Photo:

Brücke-Osteuropa (UmedaSky Building)

Cardiff

Type : City
Best Date : 
Apr-Sep
Expense :
Fair
Things to do : Nightlife, shopping, dining, sightseeing ect
Points of Interest: Cardiff Castle, Cardiff Bay, Principality stadium, Caerphilly stadium, Cardiff Millennium Centre and more
The Good: Plenty bars, restaurants and shops
The Bad: I cant think of any

Brief

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales and is known to be one of Britain’s flattest cities. It is located South of the country at the mouth of ‘River Severn’. The city is best known to be the smallest and newest capital cities only becoming a Capital on 1955.

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The Place

Cardiff is an interesting place to go whilst in the United Kingdom. Although relatively small there are various places to visit and whether you want to relax, dine, shop or learn the city has plenty to offer.

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Firstly Cardiff is famous for its shopping, the city has gone through heavy investment to establish itself a haven for shops. The capital itself is known as the city of ‘shopping arcades’, there are plenty of indoor Victorian arcades all which are lit by daylight. The shops within these arcades vary from traditional products, jewellery, textiles and also many cafes and restaurants. ‘Cardiff Market’ is also a credible place to visit. A traditional Victorian indoor market which sells fresh fruits, vegetables from local farms and fish which have just been caught.

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Secondly the bay which has gone a huge redevelopment, host many luxurious cafes and restaurants for a chilled relaxing day or a lively night atmosphere. Across the road from the bay is Cardiff’s ‘Millennium Centre’ which is the city’s stage for performing arts, many shows are played here every month. Next to the Millenium centre is the ‘Pierhead’ which has had significance in shaping the city. Once the centre of commerce for the country, now used for various exhibitions about the city and can host conference for locals. ‘Roald Dahl Plass’ named after the famous Cardiff born author is the plaza in the heart of the bay, this is a popular place for open air concerts. A walk along the bay when the sun is out is an amazing experience, it is not that big but the scenery and atmosphere is special.

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Next is Cardiff Castle situated in the centre of the city. It is just above £10 for a ticket to enter which includes various different exhibitions. Significant for 3 different ages in the Romans, Normans and Victorians this castle stood tall and defended the city in many different accounts, even through the world war the castle was used as a bomb shelter. Inside the castle you will gain an insight to the castles history through many different artwork and exhibitions, you will see the remains of Roman ruins and Nomadic architecture and Victorian artefacts. In the castle you will gain a feel for the city through the different ages. Although the castle is excellent to visit I have been and seen better, however the fact that the castle was occupied by multiple generations of the city is somewhat unique.

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Another place to visit in the city is the ‘Millennium Stadium’ or as  of 2016 the ‘Principality Stadium’ as its now known due to sponsorship. It is  the national stadium of Wales and is the 2nd largest stadium in the world with a convertible rooftop. the stadium is famous for hosting rugby matches but also hosts football, concerts and other events. The stadium has a capacity of 74,500 seats but can be added or reduced for different events.

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The city also has a booming nightlife with plenty different clubs and pubs within the city. Furthermore with a university just down the road from the city centre, plenty lively parties are frequent.

Other places to visit are Cardiff’s National Museum, University, Bute park and the Doctor Who Experience. I walked through Bute park but didn’t have the chance to visit the others.

Conclusion

All in all Cardiff is an excellent city to visit for a short stay. A day or 2 is enough and anything more may prove to be too long unless you want to take it nice and slow. The city was calm and pretty chilled in the mornings but very busy in the evenings. There is a fair amount of tourism in the city but not as much as London, Paris, Barcelona and other cities alike.

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Reference:

http://www.visitcardiff.com/
https://www.citybaseapartments.com/blog/facts-about-cardiff/
http://www.pierhead.org/en/
https://www.cardiffcastle.com/about-the-castle/