Our first stop on our break back in Europe was Helsinki, home to my lovely wife. Finland, somewhat on the edge of Europe and mostly famous for ice hockey and heavy metal bands (plus the late Nokia mobile phone brand, R.I.P.) is certainly not known as the number one tourist destination. In fact, whenever we tell people that Natalia is from Finland they tend to respond “we’ve been to Sweden, but we never made it to Finland”. But for me the “land of swamps” (as they call it themselves) has some unique unpretentious beauty. I might be a bit biased though – on the one hand since it strongly reminds me of my own home in the North of Germany, and well, because it brought forth my wife on the other hand.
This is the most impressive sight in Paraguay and also pretty much the only organised tourist attraction in the whole country. It is the first UNESCO World Heritage site (declared in 1993) I have visited that is virtually deserted of people. The whole area is just yours to stroll around. The ruins are from the 17th century when Jesuit missionaries from Spain arrived in Paraguay and “brought civilisation” to the native Guarani population. The ruins consists of the main church, Jesuit quarters and houses of local Guarani people. So many decorations are well preserved. We read that they are perfect example of Mestizo art, i.e., a mixture of European and South American art.
We had two weeks in Rio so plenty of time to explore the city. Here are some of the spots I liked, without any order of preference.
Cactus garden in Botanical Garden
I can recommend a visit to Jardim Botânico to anyone who finds themselves in Rio. They cover a large area with different sections where one can see things like Atlantic Forest, orchids and water lilies. We even saw some capuchin monkeys lurking in the trees. And it costs only BRL10 to visit.
My favourite though was an extensive cactus garden they have. I haven’t seen so many different cacti anywhere before. I am really fond of these plants who survive in the minimalistic settings for long time (like years with me and Markus). And they just have this raw beauty and grace in them that pleases the eye.