I’m back…and I’m going to Australia!

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Helllloooooo world.

Long time no see…or write…or travel.

The past few months have been crazy. I graduated, moved to a new apartment in northern Virginia, began work at a creative agency in Washington, D.C., and started dating the most wonderful guy in the world.

For a thrill-seeking nomad like me, settling into a 9-to-5 (well, in the agency world it’s really a 9-to-9) is a difficult adjustment. No more spontaneous weekday adventures, or month-long traipses through Europe. No more getting up and going at a moment’s notice when an opportunity presents itself.

And saying I’ve been stir crazy is an understatement. The map of the world on my wall teases me every time I get home from work late and flop onto my bed. So many countries to see still, and I am so eager to get out there.

But on the plus side, I absolutely love my job. The creative field is the right fit for me and I love the diversity of projects that comes with working in an agency environment. Plus, I get salaried income and a few vacation days, so it’s not quite the end of the world.

My company allows vacation only after the first six months of employment, so you better believe from day one my butt was planning a trip right at that six month mark.

And six months later, here I am at the Abu Dhabi airport, typing this during my layover to Melbourne, Australila.

That’s right, I’m going to AUSTRALIA!!!!!!

I’m finally visiting my wonderful friend Sasha who was my best friend on my Contiki tour two summers ago. Last January, she visited me in D.C., so it only natural that I take my turn now seeing her in her home!

Excited doesn’t begin to cover what I’m feeling. But it’s the word I’ll use for now.

My flight’s about to board so I’ve got to post this quickly and skidaddle…

See you soon Oz!!

How To See Oslo, Norway on a Budget

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Oslo, the beautiful, historic capital of Norway, is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe. And not take-the-bus-instead-of-a-cab expensive, rather walk-everywhere-because-you-can’t-afford-transportation expensive.

But not to worry — this doesn’t mean anyone on a budget can’t explore this Scandinavian tourist hub. There are plenty of ways to beat the high prices, if you do a little homework.

Eating

Sorry folks, but eating out is pretty much out of the question if you’re on a budget. A typical meal in Oslo costs between 200 – 400 NOK ($25-$50 USD or €22 -€44 EUR). Multiply that by three meals a day and, well, you get the idea.

The best solution is to visit a supermarket, such as Rimi or Kiwi, and stock up on local goodies you can prepare in your hostel’s kitchen. I managed to scrape by with the basics — eggs, bread, veggies, chicken, yogurt and fruit — and saved tons of money.

With few extra bills in your wallet, you can splurge on one or two meals out without breaking the bank. (If you’re like me and love visiting restaurants in other countries, try simply ordering a coffee or a crescent, then eat a full meal when you get back to the hostel).

Free things to Do


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Frogner Park and Vigeland Sculpture ParkProbably my favorite spot in the city, this 79-acre (32-ha) stretch of land is the largest sculpture park in the world made by a single artist. The 212 life-size sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron depict the human experience and are positioned in parallel lines that guide you through the park. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the Norwegian capital and entrance is completely free.

Changing of the Guard – Enjoy watching soldiers march, toss their rifles and salute each other? Every day at 1:30 p.m. catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Royal Palace of Oslo for free. Look out for a few ponytails sticking out from under the helmets; many of the guards are women.

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Oslo Opera House – Attending a show may be be a distant dream, but you don’t have to spend a dime to visit the outside of the Oslo Opera House and walk around its artsy exterior. The majestic structure sits on the the Bjorvika waterfront and looks like an iceberg emerging from the fjord. Climb to the top for an amazing 360 view of the Oslo waterfront.

Oslo City Hall – See art for free. The entrance of Oslo City Hall is an art gallery, showcasing modern paintings, sculptures and photographs from Norwegian artists. It’s no Prado Museum, but the small gallery is a free way to get a glimpse of the contemporary Norwegian art scene.

Cheap things to Do

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Akershus Fortress – This medieval castle-turned-fortress is one of the coolest attractions in Oslo. Entrance is 50 NOK ($6 USD or €5.5 EUR) for a student ticket; but you can forgo going inside and walk around outside for free. Walk along the hill outside the fortress and it will take you to an overlook where you can see all of Oslo’s harbor and cityscape.

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Viking Ship Museum – As usual, have your student ID ready. Admission to this museum that features some of the oldest Viking ships and artifacts in the world is 50 NOK ($6 USD or €5.5 EUR) for students. Bonus! Your ticket will also get you admission to the Historical Museum, so save the stub! Learn from my mistake, though: the Historical Museum is closed on Mondays so don’t plan to go then.

Transportation

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Walking or biking will always be the cheapest (and healthiest) option, but for some attractions, like the Viking Ship Museum, you’ll want a lift.

Ruter, Oslo’s tranport system, is *reasonably* priced at 30 NOK ($3.70 USD  or €3.30 EUR) for single use,  90 NOK ($11 USD  or €10 EUR) for a 24-hour pass, and  240 NOK ($30 USD  or €27 EUR) for a 7-day pass. Note: if you’re in Oslo for three days or more, the 7-day pass is the cheapest option.

A transport ticket will give you access to buses, trams, subways (t-bane), local trains and ferries. Yes, I said ferries. Hop on a boat to a neighboring fjord and get a relaxing ride with a great view of the Norwegian waterways and islands.

Olso may be one of the most expensive cities you’ll ever visit, but that doesn’t mean you need a small fortune to be able to see some of the best sights the city has to offer. Follow these tips and you’ll have a few bucks to spare for a few troll doll souvenirs.

 

Welcome to Oslo, Norway: the most expensive city in Europe

Well, the headline pretty much sums up this leg of our journey. After flying out of Schipohl Airport in Amsterdam and landing in Oslo, Norway, Sarah and I were immediately shocked by the horrendously high prices — $8 USD tall Americano at Starbucks? But…why?

We had prepared ourselves for the unpreventable blow to our wallets due to crazy high prices, but we we didn’t expect all of the extra fees we would have to pay. We had to take a train from the airport to Oslo’s central train station ($25 USD for adults, $12 for students if you remember your student ID!) and then from the train station take another street car to our hostel. We decided to forgo the second train and go by foot.

As we wandered through the streets, looking for our hostel, I took in the sights around me. Pained as I was by the high prices, I will admit Oslo is a beautiful city. The buildings stood tall and dark, and something about the architecture screamed power. The wide streets accommodated hoards of pedestrians, cars, buses and trains, but somehow the chaos seemed orderly, purposeful. Though the city is located right on the coast, there was no beachy vibe, rather an industrial, highly urbanized one. It was a place of productivity. And the people were tall, good-looking and surprisingly diverse in appearance.

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After a few wrong turns and a lot of “Didn’t we already pass this?” we spotted Anker Hostel. Again we were taken aback by the expenses. We had to pay for our linens (about $7 USD each) and were told kitchen supplies were to be rented from the front desk with a deposit of 100 NOK (or $15 USD) for three hours.

Welcome to Norway.

We were pleasantly surprised by our room, however. We had an incredibly spacious private room with a private bath, a large wardrobe, a coffee table with two chairs, and big bright, windows. But the best part was the full kitchen, equipped with stove, sink and mini-fridge, and a dining room table. We squealed with delight at the sight. With these amenities, we could avoid high prices at restaurants and cook our own meals – which is exactly what we did.

After settling in, we headed out to figure out the transportation system and find a grocery store. We struggled with both – from discerning which tickets maximized our budget to time ratio, to finding a grocery store that was open past 6 p.m. (weird), but we finally succeeded in both.

We made a healthy dinner of chicken and salad that night with our rented utensils from the hostel and headed to early. So far, Oslo was beautiful, but it seriously was a pain in my wallet.

Amsterdam Part 2 – Red Light District, flea markets and new friends

On our second night in Amsterdam, we wanted to have a little fun. We tried to rally a few of the other hostel guests to come into the city with us but only managed to convince our one new buddy, Corbin.

We planned to go to a bar or club in the city and pass through the Red Light District on the way just to see it, but ended up spending the whole evening there! Corbin had walked through the district several times before, so he acted as our personal tour guide, pointing out all of his favorite…uh…stops.

Honestly, the Red Light District was a little overwhelming for me. I’m slightly prudish, so seeing all of the barley clothed, fake-boobed, make-up caked-on women standing in windows twirling their hair and blowing kisses to summon impressionable, horny tourists into their lairs, was a little much for me. But Sarah and Corbin had fun with it!

After walking around for at least an hour, we decided to forgo the bars and catch the last train back to the hostel. Sarah and I were both tired and I had definitely seen enough for the night. With minutes to spare before the last train departed from Amsterdam Central, we ran (like, actually sprinted) to the train station and bought our tickets just to find that the trains were halted for the night for track maintenance. We then had to find the bus that was running in place of the train, which was two blocks from the train station.

The bus ride to the metro stop near our hostel took about 30 minutes. The hostel was an additional six-ish minutes via highway from the metro, and the hostel shuttle had stopped running by then, so we called a cab. Oh mah gah ya’ll. The cab driver told us the cost was 40 euros to get back to the hostel. SIX MINUTES. We negotiated down to 30 but it was still the most ridiculous cab fare I’ve paid. We got back to the hostel and finally clambered into bed, still huffing and puffing.

On our second and final full day in Amsterdam, we met with some of Sarah’s friends from outside the city. She had been to a convention in Amsterdam two weeks previously and she met some young cool cats from all around the Netherlands. She kept in touch with them and coordinated a meetup in Amsterdam when we were there.

Sarah and I got to the meeting place a little early, so we stopped in a café (which we learned to call a café, not a coffeeshop. Ha.) and got some lattes. Then we perused the neighboring shops to pass more time, and finally made our way to Central Station to meet her friends.

We enjoyed a leisurely day with them walking around the city. One of her friends, Jordi, was a Starbucks barista and knew all the Starbucks locations in town. He gave us a tour (which included free coffee, holla) of a few of his favorite locations. Caffeinated, we then stopped for lunch at an outdoor Irish pub on the canal.

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We later met up with a few more of Sarah’s friends who had been running late and the big group of us continued our tour of the city. I had been itching to go to a market all day, so Jordi showed us to the famed flower market and then the flea market. I bought some gouda from a sketchy-but-probably-fine cheese stand, and finally got my hands on a Dutch waffle! The one I got had strawberries and milk chocolate on it… deeeeelish.

At some point in the day, I also bought a muffin from a coffeeshop but felt no effect. That was my first and last attempt at indulging in the local delicacies.

Sarah’s friends were delightful. They were so funny and had such a similar sense of humor to ours. We had a blast walking around singing, laughing, and making jokes about our different cultures and languages. Apparently, the American pronunciation of “waffle” means “mouth” in Dutch, so everyone had a field day when I offered them a bite of my chocolately waffle. High-larious.

We finally made our way back to Central Station with her friends. We said goodbye, but not before snapping a selfie with my totally-awesome-and-not-cheesy-at-all selfie stick.

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We went to bed early that night, tired from our long day, and ready to take on Norway the next morning.

First look at Amsterdam: Canals, Van Gogh Museum and the Royal Palace

Sarah and I were in Amsterdam for only three nights and two full days. With so much to do and so little time, we did our best to pack as much as we could into our brief stay.

We took different flights to Amsterdam, and she arrived hours before I did and checked us in to the hostel. I arrived at the airport late afternoon and found the train to the stop near our hostel (see my last post about transportation!).

It was late by the time I rolled up to Lucky Lake hostel, so Sarah and I decided to stay in that night and just hang out with the other guests. We made a few friends in the hostel’s lobby — mostly Americans, go figure — and enjoyed the night hanging out with them. At some point we took the metro to the next station over in search of wine, and we came back with pre-mixed mojitos. The rest of the night was spent in one of the lounge cabins at the hostel where a group of us chatted, drank and played music until bed.

We rose Tuesday morning and took the metro into the city after a quick breakfast at our hostel. Our first stop was the Van Gogh Museum. The hostel staff recommended that we book our tickets in advance online so as to avoid the queue at the museum. I’m so happy we did.

We arrived in Amsterdam’s Central Station about an hour before our ticketed museum entrance time, so we enjoyed a leisurely walk along the canals and crowded streets. We even ran into one of Sarah’s friends who she had met at a convention weeks previously. On our way to the museum, we passed one of the IAMSTERDAM signs (there’s another one by the airport, and probably more?) and of course had to snap some photos.

We finally made it to the museum where the line stretched almost all the way around the building. Printed tickets in hand, we strolled right to the front and went in a special side entrance. No waiting!

The Van Gogh Museum (EUR 17) was ah-mazing. He is Sarah’s favorite artist and she therefore had more pre-existing knowledge of Van Gogh than I did, but I was blown away by everything I learned. The museum was oriented such that each floor represented a stage in Van Gogh’s life, from his first painting to his last (though there is controversy over which piece was actually is last). I learned about his conservative up-bringing, his transformation in Paris, his friends and family, and finally his final years spent painting in the insane asylum after he sliced off a bit of his ear. Truly captivating.

Leaving the museum, we headed to a cute café and grabbed a bite as we sat European style (both sitting on the same side of the table, facing the street) and people watched for an more than an hour. We then walked through Dam Square, the main shopping area, and grabbed a few necessities — a new jacket for Sarah and a pair of sunglasses for me. Pleased with our new goodies, we walked around some more, passing the Royal Palace and watching the street performers. We could have taken a tour of the alace but it cost a few euros and we were trying to budget. The outside was pretty though!

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After a little while longer of walking around, we headed back to the hostel. It was a long day full of lots of walking, but we decided that night we would head back into town and visit the Red Light District.

Greetings from the Netherlands!

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I haven´t posted in ages; school became the top priority in the weeks following spring break. But I finally GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE on May 22, and I am now free to roam about the cabin. And by cabin, I mean Europe.

In December, my travel-partner-in crime Sarah and I planned a two-week trip to Amsterdam, Oslo and Stockholm following my graduation. Three days after I walked across the stage and received my diploma, I hopped on a plane to Moscow, with a connecting flight to Amsterdam.

I’m writing from Amsterdam now after a three-day stint in this electrifying city, and let me just tell you…I like it…a lot.

Accomodations (EUR 21/night)

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We’re staying at Lucky Lake hostel, a badass summer-camp styled hostel 30 minutes outside of the city by train. It’s a little out of the way, but I’d recommend this hostel for anyone staying in Amsterdam on a budget. Lucky Lake Hostel consists of 15 or so mini campers, brightly colored and absolutely adorable, situated in a rectangle around the central courtyard. On the exterior are wooden cabins to accommodate larger groups.

In the center of the courtyard are hammocks, picnic tables, an outdoor kitchen covered in a canopy, ping pong tables, a foosball table and the bathhouse. A few campers even act as lounges (one smoking, one non-smoking) and a movie-screening room. The facilities alone make the hostel awesome, but add on the friendly and hilarious staff and free shuttle to the train station, and Lucky Lake makes the top of Sarah and my list of favorite hostels.

Transportation

Arriving in the Netherlands was easier than I thought. I don’t speak a lick of Dutch, but seemingly everyone here speaks English, so it’s easy enough to ask for help. My flight came in to Schiphol Airport, one of the biggest airports in Europe. A train station sits right below the terminal and I found the line that took me right to Holendrecht, the stop near my hostel (I had to change lines once).

To get into Amsterdam and for roaming about the city, Sarah and I found the metro to be particularly helpful, as it took us right from Holendrecht to Amsterdam’s Central Station. From there, the above-ground trams took us anywhere throughout the city. Because the trams are so open, Sarah and I used riding the tram as a quasi-guided tour of the city. Haha, clever, right?

My First Impressions of Amsterdam

What a captivating city. The dark, narrow cobblestone streets and tall, thin buildings made it feel like each street gives you a tight hug. The canals were freaking beautiful, and we took several breaks to sit on benches and watch the boats pass through. Bikes lined every walkway and canal; I’m pretty sure there were more bikes in Amsterdam than people. Every road had a bike path between the sidewalk and the street.

The coffeshops gave the the city a potent, uh, herby smell, though it didn’t permeate through all parts of the city. (Confused? Coffeeshops = cannabis stores). I can’t describe how weird it was to see people sitting outside these shops smoking casually. In the U.S., this behavior would land you a one-way ticket to the slammer.

The people. Damn. I’m a street style kind of gal and I was obsessed with what the Dutch wore: lots of sleek, black clothing, sunglasses, dresses with black tights, and funky, chunky shoes. The Dutch are some of the tallest people in the world, and that was evident. Everyone looked like models! And they were nice for the most part! Friendly waiters and store clerks, helpful authorities…. The only thing I wasn’t so jazzed about was that people don’t say excuse me when they pass by or bump into you. Being a person who says sorry to chairs when I bump into them, I was a little taken aback by the rudeness, but I’ll attribute it to a simple cultural difference.

Overall I was feeling such incredible vibes from Amsterdam. The city has character and depth, kind of brooding and enchanting. I wish we were there for longer, but I’ll be back in a few days to explore on my own after Sarah flies home. In my next post, I’ll share all the cool schtuff we did in Amsterdam!

Ta ta for now!

5 Things to Do in Lima That Won’t Break the Bank

Situated right on the Pacific Coast, Lima is a beachy, metropolitan city in Peru that holds onto its traditional Incan roots. Its fun, lively atmosphere, beautiful views and rich culture make Lima an ideal destination for young travelers. The city’s greatest perk is its affordability. With plenty to do outside, there are a number of free and low-cost attractions that are worth adding to your itinerary. Below are my top five favorites:

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  1. Costa Verde

El Circuito de playas de la Costa Verde, more commonly known as La Costa Verde, is a long stretch of road along Lima’s coast, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and city’s skyline. Along the tall cliff that lines the coast, you can take a walk or go for a bike ride through the cliff’s perfectly sculpted pathways. Benches provide plenty of places to sit and look out over the water. You can even stop at the cute café in the Miraflores district and enjoy a cup of coffee as you take in the view.

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2. El Parque del Amor (The Love Park)

El Parque Del Amor in the Miraflores district of Lima is the perfect place to capture that perfect photo. Overlooking the Bay of Lima, the park is lined with colorful mosaic-tiled walls that are reminiscent of those in Parque Güell in Barcelona. In the center of the park sits a massive sculpture of two people embracing, entitled El Beso (The Kiss). This romantic, beautiful, and free-to-visit park is a great place to relax and watch the sunset or sunrise.

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3. Dédalo

Barranco, a large district south of Miraflores known for its bohemian vibes, is full of art galleries and museums. My favorite gallery is Dédalo, both a gallery and artisan shop that, unlike some of the other galleries, is free to enter. The gallery features an assortment of traditional and modern works, ranging from furniture and outdoor sculptures, to paintings, pottery, tapestries, clothes, accessories and pillows – all for sale. Be sure to enjoy a break at the outdoor café in the gallery’s courtyard before you leave!

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4. Mirabus Tour ($8 USD)

When I was walking around to find the pick-up location for a $25 bus tour my hotel’s receptionist recommended, I fortuitously ran into the driver for another bus tour of Lima called Mirabus. When the driver told me his tour was a 2-hour drive along the coast with excursions through the most important districts of Lima (Miraflores, San Isidro, Barranco and Chorrillos) for only S/.25 ($8 USD) I was sold. And the tour did not disappoint. Mirabus offers other tours, such a Lima by Night and Colonial Lima, for around the same reasonable price.

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5. El Parque Central

Located in the center of the bustling streets of Miraflores, el Parque Central (neighboring Parque Kennedy) is a great spot to take a break from souvenir shopping. The large patches of grass and flowers make the park a prime location for picnicking or even taking a cat nap. Speaking of cats, feline lovers will adore the plethora of stray cats, young and old, that roam about the park. Oh, and did I mention there is free Wi-Fi throughout?

With so much to do in Lima at little or no cost, it’s easy to enjoy the city to its fullest and still have money in your pocket at the end of your visit. Save even more on your trip to Peru by booking with StudentUniverse. Check out our student flight discounts and plan your trip today!

 

This post first appeared on StudentUniverse.com, where I am a guest blogger. Read the original post here:

https://www.studentuniverse.com/blog/world-travel/5-things-to-do-in-lima-that-wont-break-the-bank

 

The last hurrah in Lima

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My next two days in Lima were fortunately less eventful. I spent the majority of my mornings and evenings walking around to various hostels in Lima to carry out marketing duties with StudentUniverse.

Tuesday afternoon, I took a break to take a walk around the main shopping area in Miraflores. The main street, Av. Jose Larco, was the 5th Avenue or Champs Elysees of Lima. Of course there was no Prada shop, but there was an Apple store and a specialty clothing boutique called Alpaca. Perdy fancy.

As the sun set that day, I happened upon a small, open park in the middle of the city called El Parque Central de Mraflores. Seemingly it was the place to hang out in Lima, for young people lounged everywhere in the grass on and on the benches, talking, playing music, napping. But the real pièce de résistance of the park was the hoard of stray cats meandering through the shrubbery. When I entered the small, wooded area, I saw a man shaking a bag (presumably one full of some kind of catnip) and out of the woodwork ran to him at least twenty stray cats.

They were all different breeds, and they didn’t look emaciated — most likely because this man came to feed them everyday. They were scared of any person who approached them, which made it difficult to take pictures, but I did my best.


After hanging with the kitties for a little while, I headed back to the hotel. It was getting dark and I didn’t want to be out alone at night.

The next day, I spent all morning and early afternoon walking around to different hostels. Midday, I found myself back at el Parque del Amor, this time during the day when the sunshine was plentiful. My brightly colored sundress matched perfectly with the bright mosaic tiles and I asked a kind German tourist to snap a few photos!


I sat by the water for a while, enjoying my last day on the Pacific coast, soaking in the sunshine (meanwhile, it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit at home and about to snow, so I definitely appreciated the warmth).

I continued on with visiting hostels, then went back to Hotel Nobility to check out. The checkout was smooth and effortless, and the hotel let me store my luggage there until my late-night flight for no extra charge. After taking care of that, I headed back out to downtown Miraflores to visit a few more hostels. Then, I stumbled upon a flyer for a bus tour of all of Lima for 25 soles (about $8 USD) run by Mirabus. It was such a steal that I had to hop on!  I joined the group of fifteen or so 50+ year-old women and a few small families as we rode on the top level of a double-decker bus and explored the city.


The tour guide pointed out major historic sites and attractions as we drove through the different districts of Lima, including San Isidro, Miraflores, Barranco and Churillos. We drove all along the coast, visiting familiar sites such as el Parque del Amor and Barranquito Beach, until we finally looped back round to the pick up spot.

The tour was a fantastic way to get one last look at the beautiful, traditional city. Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel to grab my luggage and make my way to the airport.

I had a few mishaps in Lima, but overall I found the city charming, bright, charismatic and inspiring.  I’ll never be able to wipe the images of the beautiful view of the water out of my head. The people (other than the man on the scooter) were friendly and congenial and made me feel welcome in a foreign city. I would recommend  Lima for anyone looking to explore a beautiful, lively, traditional yet metropolitan Latin American city.