3 affordable Michelin-star restaurants in New York City

If you’ve ever wanted to eat out in a Michelin star restaurant but have been kept back by the high prices, you should try New York. As Michelin stars are not as well known in the US as they are in Europe, prices for them in New York are not inflated, and especially Asian restaurants with the coveted stars provide affordable options for enjoying quality dining. Here’s three options I’ve tried:

Sushi at Soto, New York
Restaurant Soto – the best sushi I’ve ever tasted. This is the Uni Ika Roll, with sea urchin and squid.

Soto ** : unbelievable Japanese fair in Greenwich Village

So far the only two-star Michelin restaurant I’ve been to, the Japanese restaurant Soto lived up to the expectations. It’s located in Greenwich Village, and to find it, you need to know where it is, because there are no signs outside. The wait staff is quiet but keen-eyed to tend to you, and the food is of the “how on earth has this been done” type. Fish in Soto is guaranteed to be fresh, because the restaurant ships it in by air five times a week.

Food at Soto, New York
Cyu Toro Tartare, fatty melt-in-your-mouth tuna topped with silky avocado cream and garnished with caviar. The ponzu sauce rounded up nicely the dish.

The concept in Soto is to first taste the small and large dishes and then fill your appetite with sushi. The omakase menu (chef’s recommendations) would have been $170 per person, but we ended up picking our own dishes and the bill ended up being considerably less, even though we ate to our heart’s content. We shared six dishes with the two of us – a starter soup, two small dishes and three large ones – and ended the dinner with three nigiri and two roll sets per person, and it was more than enough. We thought the best dish was Cyu Toro Tartare, but every single dish was a good one, and one of my personal favorites was Ika Konowata (squid, sea urchin, quail egg), because fermented sea urchin turned out to be one of the most delicious ingredients I’ve run into in a while.

Soto, New York japanese restaurant
Soto has a line of tables and a bar.

Judging by reservations, Soto seems to be a pretty popular restaurant, so put yours in early. If you don’t, your other option is to just show up and try to get a seat at the bar, where they don’t take reservations. On a Saturday evening, it looked like locals were popping in for just a set or two of rolls, and even though seated diners were dressed in mostly business attire, diners at the bar were a lot more casual, and one of them seemed to come in straight from a run.

Soto Japanese Restaurant
The unmarked store front of Soto.

Restaurant Soto, 357 6th Ave, New York. Reservations accepted online.

Pok Pok Ny * : casual and tasty Thai at Brooklyn

Pok Pok Ny, Brooklyn
Dinner for two

On a Sunday evening, we were looking for something inexpensive but high quality, so we headed to Pok Pok Ny. This Thai restaurant in Brooklyn doesn’t stand out with its prices – but it does stand out with tasty food that brought it a Michelin star.

pok pok catfish larb
The dishes in Pok Pok Ny are made for sharing. [Photo: Krista / Goodies First]

For starters, we got deep-fried pork riblets (Naem Sii Khrong Muu Thawt), of which the only bad side was that they were only a starter. I wouldn’t have minded them as a main! We continued then with a shrimp mussel pork noodle salad (Sunny’s Yam Wun Sen Chao Wang), where the water had asked us if we liked spicy. We said yes, but it turned out to be actually too spicy for me, although Iiro loved it. We also had a noodle one-pot dish with king prawns and pork belly (Kung Op Wun Sen), and this for me crowned the evening, especially the green sauce that we only realized to mix in half-way through the dish.

Pok Pok NY
The bar where we ate. I think the wait staff was the same, too. [Photo: Edsel Little]

We didn’t have a reservation, and on a Sunday evening around 8pm, we got seats at the bar with zero wait time. We were asked if we wanted to wait a bit for a table, but we were fine dining more casually this time. The restaurant had the ambiance of a local diner, everyone was dressed casually and service was heartwarming. This was nothing like the fine dining experience you could expect from a Michelin restaurant in Europe, and that’s alright. If casual tasty Thai is more your thing, I recommend making the trip to Brooklyn – and maybe checking out the other locations, as Pok Pok is a small chain with restaurants also in Los Angeles and Portland.

Pok Pok NY
Pok Pok Ny is right next to the port area in Brooklyn. [Photo: Edsel Little]
Pok Pok Ny, 117 Columbia St, Brooklyn. You can make a reservation online, but around half of the tables are left for walk-ins.

Torishin * : Japanese grill master’s chicken skewers at Hell’s Kitchen

Tori Shin
Japanese chicken skewers à la chef Tori [Photo: Kok Chih & Sarah Gan / yaokui]

Torishin was our first Michelin star experience in New York, an unforgettable evening in a dimly lit smokey yakitori restaurant where the chefs were cooking the skewers right in front of our eyes. Since then, the restaurant has relocated from Upper East Side to Hell’s Kitchen, a more central location from a tourist’s point of view. A reservation is a must, and one should be prepared to interpret the wait staff’s heavy Japanese accents. You’ll get by the easiset if you take the chef’s omakase menu ($99 per person) and nod yes to everything they propose to you – and you won’t go wrong with that, because it’s all terrific.

Tori Shin
We sat right next to the grills. [Photo: Kok Chih & Sarah Gan / yaokui]

The menu at Torishin is mostly Japanese chicken skewers, from all possible parts of chicken, with all possible levels of cooking and spices. Giblets are visibly featured on the menu, and some of the skewers are left rare. If this bothers you, you can always say no, but half-done chicken is actually surprisingly good, and this is one of those places you can actually afford to try it without a salmonella scare. The menu also features vegetarian options, as does the omakase, so it’s not all chicken. The dinner is finished off with a donburi – rice with chicken, egg, or fish – which I could only taste as I was completely full at that point.

Tori Shin
Rice with eggs, both scrambled and uncooked. [Kuva: Kok Chih & Sarah Gan / yaokui]
 Torishin, 362 West 53rd Street, New York. Reservations online.

5 Cutest Animals in the Rocky Mountains

One of the best things about Rocky Mountains is its wildlife, and here’s my list of the cutest ones.

Big Horn Sheep

Big Horn Sheep

Big horn sheep move in small herds. They spend their summers high up in the Rocky Mountains, but when winter comes, they retreat to lower elevations with more vegetation. The ewes’ horns are straight and short, but rams can have large horns that round around their heads like Princess Leia’s hair. The horns also are the key to telling the age of a big horn sheep.

We’ve seen big horn sheep in Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone and Badlands national parks, as well as at Royal Gorge near Cañon City.

Yellow-belly Marmots


Rocky Mountain yellow-belly marmots are larger than their cousins, the European alpine marmots, and it sure isn’t because there’s more food in the Rocky Mountains – there isn’t. Our neighbor guessed it’s because tourists feed the marmots here with nuts, but here’s a newsflash for anybody doing that: if marmots eat food that isn’t a natural part of their diet (like nuts, potato chips, you name it), they gain the wrong type of fat in their bodies and might not be able to wake up from hibernation. Marmot hibernation is a kind of true hibernation, where their body temperature lowers down close to freezing point and their heart beats only a couple times a minute.

You’ll be bound to see marmots almost any time you hike above tree line during summer.

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goat

Mountain goats are easily recognizable thanks to their thick fur coats. In the photo, that’s a mountain goat with its summer fur on, so imagine what it’s going to be like in the winter! Mountain goats are larger than your average domestic goats, and they can even be a little scary when defending their young. They spend their days high above tree line but descend to valleys during dusk to eat. Mountain goats are just as good climbers as big horn sheep, and they compete over same territory.

We’ve only seen mountain goats once, while climbing to Quandary Peak.



Pikas are easier heard than seen: a high-pitched “eep eep” sound resonates around the tundra, but these small hamster-sized animals move lightning-fast among the rocks, so you need a real eagle eye to spot them. They’re actually not related to hamsters at all but are closer to rabbits, and a rumor tells they’ve been an inspiration to another lightning-fast animal – Pokémon character Pikachu!

Pikas are only seen on the highest mountain tops, far from tree line.

Rocky Mountain Elk


Another name for the elk is wapiti, which comes from Cree language and means “white rump”. This slightly-smaller-than-moose moose-like animal wanders around the Rocky Mountains in large gangs during summer and descend to the mountain villages during winters. September is the best time to go elk-spotting in Rocky Mountain National Park, because that’s the time of elk rut, when large bull elks clash their horns against each other and tourists block roads with their cars trying to take photos. Elk is the only animal on this list that is often hunted for food, and venison is served in many of the area’s restaurants.

You are almost bound to see an elk if you visit Rocky Mountains National Park and Estes Park, no matter the season.

What’s your favorite Rocky Mountain animal?

Colorado’s Wonderful Mountain Huts – with a Sauna at 11,610ft!

I like to go to the sauna. I like the moment when water hisses off the stove, a soft heat spreads above the benches, and I hold my arms around my face to protect them from the steam. I like sweating it all out and then heading outside to cool off, take a plunge in the sea, or just sit on the porch with a cold beer in one hand. Afterwards, I like returning back to the dimly lit sauna to calm down, relax, and repeat it all again.

It’s been half a year since I was in a sauna, so it was about time to get to one – and what a great moment that was, right after a long hike, dragging my bag and me up a mountain to an altitude of 3,5 kilometers (11,600ft)!

Continental Divide Trail / Colorado Trail

The sauna didn’t look very large from the outside, but every square foot was made to count.

In Colorado, 10th Mountain Division Hut Association runs a network of mountain huts, most of which are far from any roads. In the summer, you can hike or bike there, and in winters you use skis or snowshoes. Everything you need, you must bring along with you. The amenities in the huts vary, but generally they don’t amount to much: at Janet’s Cabin, we had a gas stove and lights powered by solar panels, but running water we needed to fetch ourselves and purify from the creek nearby.

Water UV Purification
Water was clear and tasted good straight out of the creek, but just to be on the sure side, we sterilized it with Steripen Adventure Opti* UV filter. It was easy and fast to use, so I can warmly recommend it to anyone who’s going off to hike in an area, where water is clear but not necessarily potable.

We had picked Janet’s Cabin as our weekend stay for the sauna, of course. Not every cabin had such luxury, and we weren’t sure how much of a luxury this would be, because American saunas can be weird with carpets and “no throwing water on the stove”…. but luxury it was. A pot for warm water was missing, but otherwise as a Finn, I’d give it an A+ rating. We didn’t have a lake for swimming up near the tree line, so Iiro stepped around in the icy cold creek, I cooled down in the crisp mountain air with a beer that I’d dragged with me to the mountains just for this occasion.

Kitchen at Janet's Cabin
Washing dishes can’t get better with a view like this…

Colorado Trail

10th Mountain Huts are shared so that they might have several different groups at the same time. For example Janet’s had 16 beds, spread around bunk beds in four bedrooms. On weekends, the huts are usually full, and I’d read beforehand that the guests can be a varied bunch of people, all ages and all group sizes. However this time with our Finno-German group of four, we had 12 retirees, who gathered in the evening by the fire to do puzzles and couldn’t care less for the sauna. That was fine for us, we were happy to spend the evening with just our group.

Kitchen at Janet's Cabin Stove inside Cabin

Huts are $40 per person per night, which might seem first a bit steep for a bed with little amenities. But when you think about the location of the huts, it makes sense: it’s over 10 kilometers to the nearest road from Janet’s Cabin along the Continental Divide Trail. Even if some of the hut’s maintenance is done with the help of pack animals, huge gas tanks and firewood for the winter must be transported through other means…

[helicopter photos: Paul]
IMG_4273 IMG_4234

Waking up in the morning at the cabin, my head was aching in a way that couldn’t have been just because of the couple of beers. At over 11k feet (3,5km), the air is thin enough to cause mountain sickness even if we live at a fairly high elevation ourselves. If you’re from lower elevations, I recommend catching your breath for a couple days somewhere a bit lower.

Continental Divide Trail

Janet’s Cabin is one of those huts that are along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the same route that continues from New Mexico up 5000 kilometers (3000 miles) all the way to the border of Idaho and Canada. CDT is less known than Pacific Crest Trail (recently made mega-famous by Wild), and it’s also more demanding: less than 100 people have through-hiked it. We walked it for only 10 kilometers on a section where it overlaps with much shorter Colorado Trail (CT). CDT is one of the most bad-ass trail achievements out there, but CT is possible to hike through in just 4-6 weeks, and thanks to the Mountain Hut Association, you won’t have to sleep in a tent all the way.

The huts are popular around the year, but especially during winter weekends, when you should start planning your trip already previous spring. Besides Janet’s Cabin, you can find saunas at Francie’s and Shrine Mtn Inn. All come with terrific mountain views!

Speed Boats and Celebrity Mansions in Miami

Good guys and bad guys chasing each other around on speed boats in Miami is such a classic scene in any movie set in Florida: if an action flick doesn’t have a scene like this, something’s missing! With this in mind, we headed on a speed boat tour of our own when visiting Miami last June.

Thriller Experience, Miami
The boat’s name was Thriller, and Michael Jackson was blasting on the sound system while we sped away along the canals in Miami.

Miami Beach

US Coast Guard in Miami
Route out Miami passed a US Coast Guard base.

The tour’s base was at Bayside Marketplace, where we grabbed a late breakfast before heading out to sea. It took a while to pass the port of Miami and to reach Miami Beach with the boat, but that was also part of the experience. Miami has such a fragmented seaside with dozens of artificial islands, thanks to building of the port, and we took a closer look at a couple of them before heading out to the sea…

Checking out celebrity mansions on Star and Hibiscus Islands is one of the reasons to come on this tour, because you can only admire them from sea; from land, they are blocked by gates and high walls. Our guide seemed to know everything that was going on in the lives of these celebrities and especially their real estate plans, and although I don’t follow celebrities at all, these were big enough household names that i knew exactly who we were talking about. After all, you need to be super famous to splurge $50 million on a villa…

Homes of Carmen Electra and Ricky Martin, Hibiscus Island, Miami Beach
Carmen Electra’s home on the left, Ricky Martin’s residence on the right.
Home of Phillip Frost, pharmaceutical billionaire
Home of Phillip frost, the pharmaceutical billionaire whom we can thank for Viagra.
Properties of Wayne Holman, Star Island, Miami Beach
I thought these were the houses of Will Smith and “Will Smith’s neighbor”, but my memory must be playing tricks on me, because Google tells me both of the mansions are owned by a hedge fund millionaire from New York.
New House to be Built on Star Island
A new house is being built on Star Island by… I forget. Maybe Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? In any case, this just goes to prove that there are LOTS of fine mansions on this tour.

After our little architecture and celebrity gossip tour, we headed out to the ocean for some high speed fun. I’d been a little afraid of this part beforehand, because riding a motor boat into big waves isn’t always a fun experience, but now it was – almost like a roller coaster! You can’t NOT get a little wet on this tour, but the closer you sit to the front, the less you’ll get splashed.

Miami South Beach
Miami Beach’s South Beach, plus some splash.
Most Expensive Apartments in Miami
Houses on Fisher Island next to Miami Beach, only reachable by boat, and is known for being the census designated place in the US with the highest per capita income: around $240 000 per year.
Elina, Iiro & Jenni on Thriller Miami
Don’t expect to have your hair look nice in a photo towards the end of the tour. An hour in high speeds is going to ruin whatever style you have. From left, Elina, Iiro and me.

I can warmly recommend this tour for anybody who’s heading to Miami and interested in boats and celebrities, or just one of the two. If you want to get a grasp of the speeds on this tour as well as hear what Al Capone and Lenny Kravitz have i common, check out this video:

Sponsored by Thriller Miami

Nordic Nomads – Nordic cooperation of Travel Bloggers

Living abroad, I’ve noticed how Finland is strongly associated as a Nordic country, and it feels like I get asked at least once a week if Finnish and Swedish languages are very close to eachother. (They’re not.) Just today an acquaintance introduced me as a Swede, because all he could remember was that i was “somewhere from the North”. When it comes out that I’m Finnish, travelers rush to tell me how they’ve been to Denmark. (Great, almost there!) No, Finland is not a part of Scandinavia, and the Scandes are not located in Finland. I don’t ski downhill because I’m from South of Finland, but regardless of it.

Sami dress on Norwegian Constitution Day

Despite the occasional exasperation, it’s true that we’ve got a lot in common in the North. When I was an exchange student, us Finns spent a lot of time with the Norse – they were the only other Nordics in the university – and it was the only company where we dared to talk about money: while the Greeks complained about 2 euro beers as too expensive, we were all too glad to be living somewhere cheap. At work, I can speak my mind about French working culture to a Dane and be sure that he understands exactly what I’m talking about. An American acquaintance feels immediately closer when it turns out he’s working for a Swedish company, and when I run into an Icelander at Denver, my first reaction is to propose a cup of coffee.

Norwegian National Day Parade

On a global scale, us Nordics are very similar, so it makes sense to cooperate – and this leads me to the topic of this post: Nordic Nomads! This network of travel writers, bloggers and photographers was founded by four Norwegian travel bloggers, and I had the pleasure to be chosen as one of the first Finnish members of the network.


There are three other Finnish travel bloggers in the network, and funnily enough, none of us are currently based in Finland. Satu of Destination Unknown writes her blog from Norway, Annika of Live Laugh Explore spends most of her time in Canada, and Gia and Miika of matkakuume.net are currently traveling around the world – the last I heard, they were in Fiji!

Nordic Nomads has its own blog feed, which I recommend to follow if a Nordic view into the world interests you. Some of the posts are in English, the others in all Nordic languages, which is just a showcase of the diversity of this region. Naturally the posts are not just about the Nordics; I just got some valuable tips through the blog feed for our upcoming roadtrip to Arizona!

Shinimichi has explored Arizona, and went to the Lower Antelope Canyon – a remarkable place according to them!

Posted by Nordic Nomads on Sunday, August 16, 2015

I’m looking forward to seeing how this network develops and excited for meeting all these great Nordic bloggers!

Bergen - Bryggen

P.S. The photos are from 2012, when i visited Bergen for the Norwegian National Day. It was rainy as you can see, but that didn’t seem to bother the Norwegians. The little boys marching with rifles is a specialty of Bergen, but the habit of dressing up in folk costumes to celebrate the day is the norm everywhere in the country. If you’re planning a trip to Norway, I highly recommend getting there for May 17th!

Snorkeling at Florida’s amazing coral reefs

Dip, skip and a splash into the Caribbian sea. The water’s not cool at all but pleasantly warm, and high salt levels buoy me up in the turquoise calms. A peak under the surface reveals a school of fish swimming away just a couple meters from me, weaving their way through a coral reef. I could spend an eternity breathing through the tube and slowly floating on top of the reef. This is paradise.

Fury Catamaran near Key West

Just an hour earlier we were seriously late. Searching for a parking spot in Downtown Key West is easier said than done, and it would have been best to arrive on foot, but we didn’t have a moment to lose. So we ditched the car into the ridiculously overprized parking hall at Hyatt and ran to check in at Fury Water Adventures office. Finally we were last ones boarding the catamaran, but at least we made it. Now it as time to relax!

Onboard Fury Catamaran

It took around 45 minutes for the catamaran to reach the reefs, and we spent that time adding on sunblock and enjoying cold Coke on the deck of the catamaran. All drinks were included in the price of the trip, but alcoholic beverages were only available after snorkeling = a sane policy if any. The theme of the cruise was Rum & Reggae, and while the rum had to wait, reggae blasted away from the beginning.

How to not put on a snorkel
Is this how you don a snorkel?

At this point, I also finally had time to open my new SD card from its package. I’d bought it the same morning from a shopping center in Miami, and the salesperson had recommended a 64GB card, so I was sure to have enough space for videos. The price was right, so why not? Well, I got an answer to that as soon as I popped the card into my GoPro, which immediately told me it was too large to use. No underwater photos or videos from this trip… and the lesson learned is that always test these before you’re on a catamaran somewhere in the middle of the sea!

Gopro Hero
“Please use a 32GB or smaller SD Card.” I might have sworn a bit at this point.
Sand Key Light
Sand Key next to the reef has had a light since 1827.
Snorkeling in Key West
Elina figured she didn’t need a life jacket and jumped in without one but was quickly called back. A life jacket is mandatory even if you don’t blow any air into it.
Fury Catamaran's Staircase to the water
In case you weren’t comfortable jumping in, there was also a staircase straight into the sea.

Below the surface, the sea was teeming with life. We saw all kinds of scurrying fish in all colors of the rainbow, which we later identified with a little help from Wikipedia as banded butterflyfish, grunts and porkfish, among others. The reef itself didn’t impress us, but the life that surrounded it did. Elina has also snorkeled in Thailand and Colombia, and she thought this was her best snorkeling experience as of yet. Here’s a taste of what it looked like underwater:

School of Blue Striped Grunt (Haemulon sciurus) fish
Grunts moved around in schools. [Photo: Heather Paul]
Banded Butterflyfish
Butterflyfish came with black or yellow bands. [Photo: Ben]
Porkfish had the most confusing name ever. What’s it got to do with pork? [Photo: Matthew Hoelscher]

in the end, the most memorable lifeform I saw was a small round jellyfish – or what I thought was a jellyfish until I googled about it and found out about comb jellies. They look like jellyfish but aren’t really, and they don’t have a sting.

Coral Reef at Key West

We wouldn’t be ourselves if everything had gone exactly as it should. When Iiro jumped into the water, the plunge made him drop his snorkel. I reacted quickly and dove to get it, but ended up kicking so hard that one of my fins came off. Luckily Fury had a couple of guys in the water with us, and one of them dove down to retrieve our missing equipment. I guess he was a pro when it came to diving for tourists’ dropped stuff, because I think he stayed down there for almost a minute. After this incident, I soon figured out that almost an hour in the water was enough for me and climbed back abroad the catamaran for that promised rum punch.

Onboard Fury Catamaran, Key West
Blogger herself posing on the deck.

The return trip to Key West took a bit more than an hour, because we lingered long enough to marvel the amazing sunset – us and the whole Key West fleet, all with the same agenda. When finally the sun had set behind the horizon, the captain steered to shore and we got to continue our evening with a dinner in a nearby restaurant. Key West is known for its sunset carnivals, but I think this sunset cruise probably could top any carnival.

Key West Sunset Cruise

Sunset at Florida Keys

Overall the trip was a great experience I can warmly recommend to anyone who enjoys a bit of a swim. For a bit of live action from the deck, check out this video I shot:

Sponsored by Fury Water Adventures

US Customary Units – WTF are these cups, ounces and pounds?

Back in the 90s, I hopped on the plane with my parents and moved to the US, barely speaking a word of English. Clueless and weird, sticking out like a sore thumb in my elementary school class of Americans, the only silver lining for me was that at least numbers are the same all over the world. It was customary to end the school day with a little math quiz, where we’d solve math problems in small teams, and the first team to solve it would be the first one to go home. (…that is, walk out to the parking lot to the school buses that of course waited for everyone.) I was a popular team mate, because even if conversation with that weird Finnish girl was out of the question, at least she was quick at math.

Imagine my bewilderment when one day, the problem was: How many ounces are there in 2 gallons, 1 quart and 3 cups of water?

????? WTF???? Is this some kind of joke??


Yes it is, a big joke, and this joke just goes on and on. On 6th grade, I fought with my class mates about which system of units made more sense, and my mates wouldn’t admit defeat even when none of them were able to tell me how many yards are in a mile. Well can you tell us, how many centimeters is in a kilometer? Eh, of course I can…

On 7th grade, I finally ran into a math teacher who felt my pain. I made my case of how the local American units were incomprehensible and metric system the only real one for the academic world, and to my great surprise I got a permission to skip all math problems that involved calculating with US units. My teacher Mr. Lipsky told me back then that he was pretty sure US would switch over to the metric system within a couple of decades. Now, a couple decades later, Mr. Lipsky’s probably lost hope on that miracle, Americans continue running on gallons, and I’m still clueless when it comes to ounces.

I have learned something, though, so here are my little tips and tricks on how I’ve made this irritatingly irrational system work for me.

Our weather forecast for the next five days.
Our weather forecast for the next five days. Say, how hot will it be?

Temperature: Fahrenheit

The Fahrenheit scale is actually pretty simple: 0F is “colder than it ever gets outside”, and 100C is “human with a mild fever”. For real, this is no joke. The Dutch Mr. Fahrenheit just happened to be making his measurements of “coldest it ever gets” in Iceland on a particularly mild winter, so “zero” is just -18C and negative F-digits aren’t rare in the North. 100F is 37.7C.

There’s of course a formula for transforming Fahrenheit to Celsius, but usually I just give up and go with my gut feeling, which is something like this:

Below 0: Actually cold.

0-32: Not-so-cold freezing. Water freezes at 32F.

40s and 50s: Take a coat when you go outside.

60s: You won’t need a coat.

Lower 70s: Room temperature.

80s: Nice and hot.

90s: Not-so-nice hot.

100s: Too hot, don’t go out. Unless you’re intent on touring Death Valley.

With oven temperatures, the figures are so large and tolerances so wide that a simplified formula of 2 x Celsius = Fahrenheit works just fine. At least with our snapping gas oven with a not-too-particular thermostat.

Have you ever wondered, why the max weight for checked baggage is 23kg and not some round number? That’s because it’s a round number in pounds: 50lb. [Photo: Slices of Light]

Weight: Pounds and Ounces

One pound is 453 grams, around the weight of a standard-sized package of minced meat. You can divide pounds by two, and when you round up a bit, you end up with kilos. Or you can multiply kilos by two, and when you round down a bit you get pounds.

I never use ounces, because things that weight less than a pound are super light anyway, and anything packaged in the stores also displays grams.

got milk?
Everything is bigger in America, including milk containers. [Photo: www.bluewaikiki.com]

Volume: gallons, quarts, pints, cups and ounces

One gallon is 3.8 liters, which is easy to comprehend, because milk here is sold in containers of one gallon, and everybody knows milk containers. This big plastic jug weighing hellofalot, and mostly when you talk about gallons, it’s always one gallon, maybe two, max three. After that, it’s kind of hard to comprehend liters too, because how easy would it be for you to grasp how much water is actually in a swimming pool of 5000 liters? (Okay, pretty easy, because you can always convert them to cubic decimeters.)

This is a point where Brits and Americans have strayed apart: the names of their units are the same, but the gallon, basis for volume, is different. British gallon is 10 pounds worth of water, around 4.5 liters, a somewhat sane number in an insane system. Americans, though, use the old wine gallons, which as far as I’m concerned aren’t based on anything, but at least you can measure wine with them. For example, one wine barrel has 31.5 wine gallons of wine, which is about as even number as it gets with this system.

One quart is just what it sounds like: a quarter of a gallon. That makes it basically a liter, a little shy of one, but when a recipe asks for a liter of chicken broth, it’s alright to pour in a quart. Add some water if it doesn’t feel like enough.

One pint is half of a quart, a little less than half a liter. Unlike in Europe, beer seems to be rarely measured in pints here, but instead they talk about ounces: 16oz is a large beer, 12oz a small one. It took me ages to learn this, but at least when the bartender asks me Twelve or sixteen ounces? I’m able to pick the bigger number. Wine glasses sold in ounces are still a complete mystery to me, so it’s better to just order a bottle.

A cup is like a large coffee mug (unless you ask Starbucks, where it’s extra small), one fourth of a quart, a little less than 2,5dl. This is the easiest measurement of them all, because our plastic measurement cups also have deciliters marked on the other side.

Ounces… wait, what are ounces doing here, aren’t they a measurement of weight? Well yeah, that too, but they’re also a measurement of volume called a fluid ounce, fl.oz, and guess what: one ounce of water weighs a bit more than an ounce! That makes so much sense that I’ve given up learning ounces also when it comes to volume, and luckily recipes usually talk about fractions of cups.

Portland Distance Sign
[Photo: Glen Mazza]

Distance: miles, yards, feet, inches

When you multiple miles by 1.5 and round up a bit, you get kilometers. Kilometers turn into miles when you snip off around a third, and besides, it doesn’t really matter that much anyway: distances here are measured usually in minutes – like how many minutes it takes to get there with a car – and hiking trail lengths are anyway always a little off.

American speed limits are also in miles. Naturally, in cars made for the US market, the speedometer displays miles so no conversions are needed. The good thing with these cars is that they also have kilometers in small print, so it’s not a problem shipping your car to Europe. The other way around, though…

Yards are like meters for the vertically challenged. The 25 yard swimming pools here are a bit shorter than pools in the rest of the world, but surprise surprise, there are no 50 yard pools: the Olympic pools are measured in meters also here. Maybe the swimmers training in them want to get used to the same lap length they’ll have when they compete abroad. Yards don’t seem to be used very much outside of swimming and other sports, which is a pity, because for a metric person like me, they’re the easiest measurement of distance.

A foot is the foot of some really tall person, because my foot is only 23cm, whereas the foot is around 30cm. In the book Colorado’s Fourteeners, which I otherwise respect a lot for its climbing advice, the mountaineering guru has a chapter called “In Defense of Feet”, where the argument basically seems to be: I have a foot. I don’t have a meter. Now watch out, don’t loose your eyes while you’re rolling them around… In any case, three feet adds up to a yard, so when you multiply feet by three, you get that same vertically challenged meter.

Often with distances, miles are used with decimals, and altitude is measured in feet and feet only – like a Fourteener is a mountain over 14 000 feet, not 2 miles and 3440 feet – but ever so often someone mixes the whole thing up by mixing these two measurement together. I only learned last year how many feet there are in a mile when I subscribed to Denver’s local magazine 5280. Why the name? One mile is 5280 feet, and Denver is the Mile High City.

One inch is a little less than 2.5cm. Sound familiar? A cup is a little less than 2.5 dl! This means four inches is 10 cm, and you can go far with this level of accuracy, just not to Mars.

Feet are never used with decimals and instead, that less-than-a-feet-part is converted to inches. For example, my height is 5 feet 8 inches, in American shorthand 5′ 8″. Sometimes inches can be used with fractions, but I never do that, because then I’d have to admit I’m only 5′ 7½”.

Header photo: Biking Nikon SFO

Advice from a Mountain

Summer has advanced to August, but I feel like it has just started. Wasn’t it just a little more than a month ago when I trampled through snow in the mountains? And if last year is anything to judge by, the highest mountain tops are still open to climbers without winter equipment well into September.

So far, we’ve climbed two fourteeners in the Rocky Mountains: first Mount Bierstadt (14,065 ft / 4287m) in June, pushing through snow up to our thighs, and then a couple weeks ago to Mount Elbert (14,440 ft / 4401m) in beautiful sunshine and clear skies. We’ve also climbed our fair share of smaller mounts and trails and bushwhacked our way forward. I finally spotted some wild turkeys in Rocky Mountain National Park, and marmots whisking their tails away have cemented their place as our totem animals. I’ve sled down a mountain on my behind in a state of mild panic to escape a thunderstorm, and I might have developed a mild case of astraphobia, which is only a good thing, because I don’t want to end up a statistic. (On average, 11 Coloradans die each year of lightning strikes.) I’ve filled up my hard drive with photos several times over and munched on too many Clif Bars to count. Every couple of weeks, I’ve made the pilgrimage to REI to get some new topo maps, which should come to an end any moment now, because soon I have them all.

I’ve been meaning to write trips reports from several of the hikes and climbs, but meanwhile you may enjoy some Colorado mountain views that my Instagram followers have seen already throughout the summer. The advice is from a poem by Ilan Shamir.

Mount Elbert, Colorado

Reach for new heights

Mount Bierstadt, Colorado

Savor life’s peak experiences

Mount Bierstadt, Colorado

There is beauty as far as the eye can see

Mount Sanitas, Boulder, Colorado

Be uplifting

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rise above it all

Durango, Colorado

Build on solid foundation

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Patience, patience, patience

Chapin Creek Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Life has its ups and downs

Mt Elbert, Colorado

Let your troubles vanish into thin air

Indian Peaks, Colorado

24 new World Heritage Sites – and the list gets longer!

Collecting world heritage sites is both fun and tricky, because you’ll never be finished. This is because UNESCO keeps on inscribing new properties to the list every year, and in this year’s meeting in Bonn, there were altogether 24 new sites added. Here they are:

8 new easily accessible sites to Europe…

Norway: Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site

Rjukan, Norway
In Southern Norway, 150km West of Oslo, a nitrogen manufacturing complex was built in the early 20th century. The complex needed power, so two large hydroelectric power plants were also built: Svelgfoss, Europe’s largest at the time, and Vemork, world’s larges at the time. Nearby villages of Rjukan and Notodden were built to house the workers of the complex, and the whole area ended up on the world heritage list because of it being a good example of a new global industry in the early 20th century. [Photo: Nigel Swales]

Denmark: Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement

Old well in front of Brothers Congregation Church
Christiansfeld made the list, because it’s a prime example of what a town will look like if it’s been planned by the Church. The central square is designed around the church, houses are homogenous and unadorned, and there are large communal houses for the congregation’s widows and unmarried men and women. [Photo:  Martin Nikolaj Christensen]

Denmark: The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand

Par force hunting, which means hunting deer on horseback with the help of hounds, was a popular hunting style in 16th century Danish court. Store Dyrehave and Gribskov forests as well as Jægersborg Hegn hunting park were reserved for the activity in North Zealand, and several grand hunting lodges were built in the area, including Eremitagen in the photo. For more info on this site, check out the blogs Nordic Food & Living and Stories from Copenhagen. [Photo: Guillaume Baviere]

Germany: Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus

Speicherstadt in the port of Hamburg is the largest warehouse district in the world where the buildings stand on timber-pile foundations. It was built around the turn of the century a little over hundred years ago to serve Hamburg port activities, and nowadays its red brick buildings house several museums and boutiques. Nearby Kontorhaus district has six large office complexes that were built in the 20s and 30s for port-related businesses, and the most famous of these is the modernist Chilehaus office. To read more on this site, check out the blogs Time Travel Turtle and Landlopers. [Photo: Bert Kaufmann]

France: Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars

Champagne Cellars at Mercier
Monks began to produce champagne in the 17th century, but its production reached industrial scale only in the 19th century. This new world heritage site includes several historic vineyards as well as Avenue de Champagne in the city if Épernay, where many famous old champagne houses have their cellars. As a world heritage site, the area bears testimony to the development of a very specialized artisan activity that has become an agro-industrial enterprise.

France: Climats, terroirs of Burgundy

Opera de Dijon in Rain
The area South of the city of Dijon is the home to Burgundy’s vineyards and their traditional divions into larger terroirs and smaller climats. This division is based on thinking by 14th century Cistercian monks who noticed that different vineyards gave different yields and varieties of grapes depending on the micro climate, soil and other natural variables. When the vineyards were transferred more and more from the Church and Crown to Dijon’s bourgeoisie in the 18th century, an official climatsystem was drawn up to value the lands. The world heritage list includes both the vineyards as well as the old town of Dijon where the system was born.

United Kingdom: The Forth Bridge

Forth Bridge Blues
The railway bridge over River Forth is the world’s longest multispan cantilever bridge. It was opened to traffic in 1890 and is still in use. It was added to the World Heritage list because of its importance in bridge design and construction during the period when railways came to dominate long-distance land travel. The Forth Bridge is featured in the blogs Adventures around Scotland and Funky Ellas Travel. [Photo: Chris Combe]

Italy: Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale

Italy-2125 - Cathedral of Palermo
When Normans conquered Sicily in 1061, the result was a melting pot of Norman, Arabic and Byzantine culture that left its mark on the capital of Palermo for decades. During the Norman kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194), two places, three churches, a cathedral and a bridge were built in Palermo, along with cathedral churches in the nearby cities of Cefalú and Monreale, that featured the new architectural and decorative styles influenced by the Islamic Arabs, Orthodox Byzantine and Catholic Norman people living peacefully in the cities. Read about Palermo in A Blonde around the World and Monreale in A Taste of Travel. [Photo: Dennis Jarvis]

4 sites in the Americas, including a reason to travel to Texas…

Jamaica: Blue and John Crow Mountains

Blue Mountains - John Crow National Park
The only new site inscribed for its natural heritage is the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park in Jamaica, thanks to its rich collection of moss. The area is also a cultural heritage site, because it served as the hiding place for the indigenous Tainos fleeing slavery. Later, Maroons, former enslaved people of African heritage, established a network of trails and hiding places in the area. Kirsten Nature & Travel has written about this place, as has Island Runaways. [Photo: VANKUSO]

Mexico: Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System

Arcos de Zempoala
A 16th century Franciscan priest Padre Tembleque lead the building of an aqueduct to the area so that local Indian communities would have access to clean water. This aqueduct has the highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct, and it’s an example of a blend of Roman hydraulics and traditional Mesoamerican construction techniques: the bricks are adobe. [Photo: Federico]

Uruguay: Fray Bentos Industrial Landscape

Serie - Ruinas y recuerdos del frigorífico Anglo IV
A factory was built in the city of Fray Bentos in 1859, which was meant to process cattle raised in the nearby prairie for shipping and sale in Europe. In addition to the processing plant, the factory had packing and dispatching, an early example of the entire process of meat production on a global scale. [Photo: Federico Moreira]

USA: San Antonio Missions

Mission San Jose
In the 18th century, Franciscan monks built five missions along San Antonio River, to help the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. The architecture of the missions is a mix of Spanish and Coahuilteca decorative styles. Blogging Babies and the Bayou writes about Mission Concepción, and Hipstercrite recommends checking all of the missions out via a hike & bike trail. [Photo: Bill Staney]

7 new wonders in the Middle-East…

…including two in Iran and one in Saudi Arabia. Especially getting to the latter might be hard!

Iran: Susa

According to Persian lore, Susa was the world’s first city – and this might actually be true: it existed already 6000 years ago. During the years, it has been a part of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian cultures, before Alexander the Great came around and conquered it. Finally Susa was destroyed by the Mongolians in 13th century. [Photo: ninara]

Iran: Cultural Landscape of Maymand

Bringing In the Flock, Firuzabad, Iran
Maymand is a self-contained semi-arid area South of Iran’s central mountains. Locals herd their flock in the mountains in Spring and Autumn living in temporary settlements. In Summer they farm their pastures, and in Winter they retreat into cave dwellings on the bottom of the valley. This cultural landscape made it to the world heritage list, because it’s an example of a lifestyle that was much more common back in the day. Goats on the Road have been there, and the Larmours have roadtripped the area with kids. [Photo: Julia Maudlin]

Israel: Necropolis of Bet She’arim

Beth She'arim
When Romans destroyed the temple of Jerusalem during the first Jewish-Roman war in the year 70, the Jewish administration moved to Bet She’arim. In the year 135, Romans also barred Jews from burying their dead in Mount of Olives, and that’s when Jews founded instead a necropolis in Bet She’arim. The place made it on the world heritage list thanks to its extensive collection of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew inscriptions and artworks. Sandra Bornstein and Stop Having a Boring Life have written about their visits. [Photo: Alex Brey]

Jordan: Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas)

Jesus Christ baptism site (2007-05-811)
The baptism site of Al-Maghtas is a site of Christian pilgrimage, because it’s here that John the Baptist was believed to baptize Jesus of Nazareth. It is inscribed on the world heritage list because of its many Roman and Byzantine churches, chapels and monasteries, as well as caves that were inhabited by hermits and pools in which baptisms were celebrated. Stop Having a Boring Life has also visited this site. [Photo: VascoPlanet]

Saudi Arabia: Rock Art in the Hail Region

Jubbah, Hail excursion
The ancestors of present-day Arabs left their mark on the hills of Jubbah and Shuwaymis in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia. The oldest petroglyphs in the area are over 10 000 years old, and they bear representations of both animals and humans. The site used to be on the shore of a lake, but during the millenias, the lake has dried up and now the site is in the middle of a desert. Widen Your Horizons has more photos from the area. [Photo: Samira]

Turkey: Ephesus

Library of Celsus
Ephesus used to hold one of the seven wonders of the world: the Temple of Artemis, built in the 5th century B.C. Around the same time started the building of the city of Ephesus, which became one of the most important in Ancient Greece. Later, it was part of the Roman Empire, with many more important buildings built, and the city became one of most populous in Rome. The city is also a pilgrimage site for Christians, because it is believed that Virgin Mary lived here. Finally the city fell in ruin because its harbor slowly silted up. Have Blog Will Travel and Alex in Wanderland have both written about their trips to the current archaeological site. [Photo: Laszlo Ilyes]

Turkey: Diyarbakır Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape

Hevsel Garden, Diyarbakir
The city of Diyarbakır is in South-East Turkey and mostly inhabited by Kurds. Since the Greek times, it has been a major cultural and economic center. Amida Mound in the middle of the city as well as its walls are part of the world heritage site, as are the nearby Hevsel Gardens that connect the city to the river Tigris. Nomadic Samuel has been there, as has Katinka Abroad, who writes about traveling there as a solo female traveler. [Photo: Julia Buzaud]

5 sites old and new in Far East…

China: Tusi Sites

Hailongtun Castle Zunyi Guizhou China David McBride Photography-0083
From 13th to 20th century, the mountain regions of South-West China were ruled by Tusi chiefs, whom Chinese central government had appointed to govern the local tribal people. Tusis were chosen from among the tribes, which allowed them to keep their own traditions and culture but still feel a part of unified China. Three sites relating to the Tusi system have been inscribed on the world heritage list: Laosicheng and Tangya temples and buildings as well as Hailongtun Fortress, the best preserved medieval fortress in China, of which Lao Ren Cha writes about in her blog.  [Photo: David McBride]

Japan: Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution

軍艦島(端島) Gunkanjima - Battleship Island(Hashima Island)
This is the most controversial of all the new world heritage sites, as it protects industrial sites from the Meiji period (1868-1912), and many of those sites used Korean and later Chinese forced labor from 1910s onward. The reason for inscribing these 23 sites to the world heritage list is because they are an examples of how a non-Western country has used Western technology to its advantage to industrialize in a matter of decades. The sites are ports, shipbuilding sites, coal mines, iron forges, old headquarters of industrial companies, and also Gunkanjima, the abandoned city built on top of the Hashima coal mine, which featured in the James Bond film Skyfall. You can read more about visiting Gunkanjima on Anxious Adventurers. [Photo: waka]

South Korea: Baekje Historic Areas

Busosanseong 021
Around 2000 years ago, Korea was divided into three ancient kingdoms: Baekje, Silla and Gaya. This world heritage site site protects Baekje sites from its latter times in 475-660: fortresses, temples, administrative buildings, royal tombs… The kingdom of Baekje was in its golden age at that time, a melting pot of cultures thanks to its good relations to the other Korean kingdoms as well as China and Japan: for example Buddhism spread to Japan largely through Baekje. The kingdom was destroyed in 660 when Silla and China together conquered it. One Weird Globe writes about visiting Gongsanseong fortress, and Goodman Gossip shares her experience visiting Sabi, the former capital of the kingdom. [Photo: travel oriented]

Mongolia: Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape

Burkhan Khaldun mount
Burkhan Khaldun is situated around 100 kilometers north-west of Ulan Bator, and it’s a sacred mountain to Mongolians. According to the legend, Genghis Khan was born and died on the mountain, which might be a deliberate story spread by Genghis Khan, because it was his idea to unite Mongolians by promoting the worshiping of mountains. Shamanic rock cairns called “ovoo”s spot the mountain. For more photos, check out Don Croner’s blog. [Photo: Ganzorig Gavaa]

Singapore: Botanical Gardens

Rain tree (yellow variety) and bandstand
Singapore Botanical Gardens was founded by Brits in 1859, and it has since then been an important center for South-West Asia’s botanical research. The gardens were inscribed on the world heritage list because of old buildings and historic plantings that tell the story of the garden evolving from a British tropical colonial garden to a world-class scientific institution. Travel Yourself Today has information on the gardens, Follow My Wanders talks about dining there. [Kuva: Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos]

And what’s the status of my collection now?

With a bunch of new places added to the list, my collection of world heritage sites grew with three new sites. Here they are:

  • I visited Champagne twice while living in Luxembourg. Once I went to Reims for a weekend to tour the cathedral – also an UNESCO site – and the smaller champagne houses in the area. The other time I visited Avenue de Champagne and the big famous houses as a day trip, and I remember especially well Mercier’s world’s largest champagne barrel and Castellane, the most popular champagne house in France, which is little known abroad, because almost all of its production goes to domestic markets.
World's Largest Champagne Barrel, Mercier
World’s largest champagne barrel, which was made fo the 1889 Paris world fair. It was the fair’s second-most popular sight. The most popular was a certain tower…

Mercier champagne

Castellane Tower

  • I visited Dijon in March this year. I didn’t have time to stop by the vineyards of Burgundy, but since I spent several hours touring the historic old town as well as tasted local wines, I count this at least as a partial visit. The city’s very beautiful and well worth a longer trip thanks to its rich history.

Dijon in Rain

  • I visited Palermo back in 2005 (or was it 2004?), so my memories are a bit shaky. I remember sitting on the steps of a cathedral, waiting for the siesta to end and for my boat to Naples to leave. Although I must have visited several churches and the palace, I don’t remember making a note of their Arab-Norman architecture, so even though technically-speaking this is mark on my list, I think this place demands a new visit from me.

After this, my total comes up to 105 visited world heritage sites! Only 926 more to go…

Have you been to any of these new world heritage sites? Which one would you like to visit the most?

24h in Key West with Friends!

I’ve heard of travelers who only make a day trip to Key West from their Miami vacation, and I’m here to prove them wrong: Key West absolutely needs 24 hours, and I would have rather stayed longer! We rented a car from Miami with Iiro and Elina and drove across the breathtaking Florida Keys bridges to enjoy this cute little town on a paradise island.

Highway 1 to Key West
The longest bridge on the Florida Keys, Seven Mile Bridge, leads from Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key, and despite its name is only 6.8 miles (10.9km) long.

11 a.m. Drive to Key West – reserve time for this!

I’d recommend setting out to Key West early in the morning, but because of flight schedules, this wasn’t an option for us. Good thing was we missed Miami’s morning traffic; bad thing was Miami has traffic no matter time of the day, so it felt like an eternity before we got to the first of the Keys, Key Largo. It’s not worth taking a “short drive” to the Keys to check out the views, because the best views are towards the end of the trip several hours away.

Drive to Key West

We got hungry on the way and stopped by Lu Lu’s Garden Grill (7435 Overseas Hwy) on Marathon Key for a quick lunch. The seafood sandwiches were excellent, and we enjoyed them on a shady garden patio. It took still more than an hour to get to Key West from here, and including the short lunch break, we were on the road for over 5 hours, which is the biggest reason why I don’t recommend Key West as a day trip.

Key West

5 p.m. Snorkeling at Key West’s gorgeous coral reef

If there’s one thing I’d recommend for anyone visiting Key West, it’s this: go snorkeling! Key West is close to Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and it’s amazing. We saw porkfish, blue striped grunts, banded butterflyfish, groupers – even a medusa! Elina, who’s snorkeled also in Thailand and Colombia, said that this was her best snorkeling experience ever, and as a first-timer to coral reefs, I was completely sold.

Snorkeling in Key West

The catamaran took around 45min to get to the reef, after which we had a bit more than an hour in the water. The ocean was pleasantly warm, but sun was shining low enough that we weren’t afraid of sunburns.

Coral Reef at Key West

8 p.m. Key West Sunset

Our snorkeling trip was a combined sunset sail, and on the way back we were relaxing on the deck of the catamaran, sipping on rum drinks and marveling the sunset. Key West, as its name signifies, faces west, so the sun will set into the sea with no obstacles on its way no matter where you stop to observe it. Sunset times of course vary according to seasons, and you can check out the exact time here.

Key West Sunset
View half an hour after sunset. Usually the best colors pop up only after the sun has set, so don’t turn your back on the sunset too hastily.

If we hadn’t been on the sunset cruise, we’d have probably been at Sunset Celebration, as recommended to us by our water at Marathon. This is a nightly art fest at Mallory Square Dock that starts up a couple hours before sunset.

9 p.m. Key West Dinner

At Key West, you won’t have to worry about restaurants closing their doors too early. After sunset, we headed to Hog’s Breath Saloon (400 Front St)… not because of a recommendation, but because Iiro had spotted a tourist wearing their T-shirt at Amsterdam Airport, and the name and especially slogan – Hog’s Breath is better than no breath at all! – sounded so hilarious we wouldn’t miss it. Luckily for us, it wasn’t just the slogan that was good. Shrimp skewers and BBQed pork were our favorites, and the beer and drinks were good too!

Hog's Breath Saloon, Key West

After dinner, we headed out to Duval Street, Key West’s nightlife hub, with bars on every corner. The most famous of them is Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval St), Ernest Hemingway’s favorite, but instead, we sat down at a window table at Bull’s Whistle Bar (224 Duval St) for some people watching. It wasn’t quite New Orleans, but not far from it.

9 a.m. Morning at a Key West hotel: NYAH

We’d picked NYAH – Not Your Average Hotel for our accommodation, and the choice couldn’t have been more spot on! I wouldn’t recommend this place for older couples or families with children – you have to be at least 18 to stay here – but for a young-in-spirit group of friends, this was the perfect fit: we all fit into the same room, the rooms were spotlessly clean with an en-suite bathroom, beds were comfy and each one of them had their usb charging stations to fuel up our electronics during the night, towels were given freely for use both on-site and off-site, and of course it’s a short walking distance from downtown but far enough from the noise for a good night’s sleep. A simple but good continental breakfast was part of the price, so we started our morning lounging on one of the many terraces, sipping our coffees.

NYAH - Not Your Average Hotel - Key West
The architecture of the place is typical Key West villa style. Four houses share the same secluded pool area with palms and vegetation, and the judging by the many stairs, terraces and walkways, no room is like. The rooms are for groups of 2-6 guests.

The only drawback that came to my mind while I was sunbathing by the pool and reading a book was that we hadn’t had time to come earlier to enjoy the hotel already the previous day – because this place would have been really worth it. On top of everything else, the hotel has a daily happy hour at 4.20pm, which we had missed this time. I’m saying “this time”, because if I return to Key West with friends, returning to NYAH is a no-brainer.

Key West Hotel - Not Your Average Hotel - NYAH
There’s three pools and two jacuzzis, so you won’t run out of space.

12.00 Key West Downtown

We hanged out at the hotel as long as we could, but everything good must come to an end. By checkout time, we were walking back Downtown to check it out in daylight – that is, scorching sunlight!

Key West Downtown

We noticed soon that the touristy downtown was dividing opinions: I liked it and would have loved to tour the small shops and boutiques for a while longer, but Elina and Iiro thought it was too touristy. Key West’s famous villas were mostly East of Simonton Street in the neighborhood of our hotel, while Duval and Whitehead Streets were full of cafes and restaurants catering to an out-of-town audience, as well as kiosks selling this trip and that tour. We have Cold Beer was a sign we saw on almost every corner.

Key West Downtown
Midrow on the left: Shipwreck Treasures Museum tower that you can climb on to see the city.

I had a couple complimentary tickets for the local museums, so we split up for a moment. Elina checked out the Key West Aquarium, which she wouldn’t recommend to anyone who cares about animals: in the aquarium, fish were picked out of the tanks and even petted, which is obviously no way to treat a fish. Iiro checked out the Shipwreck Treasures Museum, which seemed interesting and is recommended for anyone interested in the pirate history of Key West. Just make sure you have enough time, because it’s a guided tour with reenacting and Iiro had to quit the tour half way to make it to our preagreed meeting spot.

Key West

Me? I toured the city with my camera. Truman’s Little White House, president Truman’s winter home, sounded tempting, but instead I stayed out to photograph the streets, houses, boutiques and of course the Caribbean sea. After spending a couple years inland, you wouldn’t believe how much I miss the sea.

Caribbean Ocean from Key West's Mallory Square

13.00 Trolley Tour

We wanted to see much of Key West in limited time, so we jumped on board the Old Town Trolley Tours, which goes all around the island. The relaxed tour guide narrated the sights we passed as well as told tales of Key West history. Ticket prices (around $30) felt a bit steep, but only because we were doing this on our last day: the tickets are valid for two days and it’s a hop-on hop-off tour, so this would have been perfect as the first thing to do in Key West, after which you can use it as a form of transportation.

Key West Conch Train
This isn’t the trolley but a Conch Train, a slower and shorter tour by the same company
Conch Republic Seafood Company, Key West
Conch Republic Seafood Company, where a torturing scene from James Bond & License to Kill was filmed. Now it’s a seafood restaurant.
Conches in Key West
Bottom row is Key West’s symbolic seashell, the conch (pronounced ‘konk’). Key West natives are known as conches, and if you live here for more than ten years, you’re a freshwater conch. In 1982, Key West declared itself an independent Conch Republic, because it wasn’t satisfied with the roadblocks set up on Route 1 by Border Patrol to check cars for drugs and illegal immigrants, as they slowed down traffic and diminished tourism. In a famous media stunt, the mayor of Key West climbed a Coast Guard ship, declared the city independent, declared war to the US, and then surrendered after a minute, requesting one billion dollars in foreign aid. The stunt worked, and humiliated by the media attention, Border Patrol closed down its roadblocks. Conch Republic still has its own passports, navy and national anthem.
Key West Villas
There’s only one rule for Key West villas: they must have tin roofs to prevent fires. Many houses are from the 1920s, because the last direct hit from a hurricane in Key West was in 1919.
Key West Southernmost Point & End of Route 1
On the left: USA’s southernmost point, which of course isn’t really the southernmost, because that’s on Hawaii’s Big Island. Neverthless, tourists queue to take their photo here. On the right: US Route 1 ends here. The other end is at Maine, almost 4000 kilometers away.

14.00 Lunch at Two Friends Patio & Key Lime Pie!

We spent a moment looking for a lunch restaurant that wouldn’t be too touristy and finally found one at the end of Front Street: Two Friends Patio Restaurant served us decent-priced oysters, creamy lobster bisque and tasty fried seafood. While there, we asked the waiter about roosters and hens walking around Key West. They just are here. They can’t fly away anywhere, now can they? But does someone own them? No, they just are here until the next hurricane sweeps them away.

Two Friends Patio Restaurant, Key West
You don’t often hear “cock-a-doodle-doo” while having lunch…

Our waiter promised us they served excellent key lime pie, and he surely didn’t lie. In fact, it was so excellent I completely forgot to take a photo. You don’t want to miss this while in Key West!

Miami Beach: Joe's Stone Crab - Joe's Original Key Lime Pie
This is what it looked like. A little like a very sour lemon-flavored cheesecake. Whipped cream is not optional! [Photo: Wally Gobetz]

3 p.m. On the shores of Key West: Smathers Beach

Our time in Key West was coming to an end, because we wanted to make it to Miami before evening, but we still made one more detour… by the beach!

Smathers Beach, Key West

On our Trolley Tour, we’d spotted an opening to Smathers Beach in its Eastern end that didn’t prohibit vehicles, so we hit the beach with four wheels! Next time I need to plan on bringing a towel – and maybe also plan on spending another night in Key West. I have a feeling it would be worth it!

Jeep Wrangler on a Beach, Key West
When our rental car company said they didn’t have our reserved Full Size (“Chevy Impala or similar”) in stock, but would we care for a Jeep Wrangler? …we didn’t complain.

Sponsored by NYAH