Memories of a city – Rio De Janeiro [Brazil]

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November-December 2011. I struggle to believe it’s been already nearly six years since that trip that meant so much to me. It was a holiday, a mad act of love, a journey of self-discovery. I was answering a calling from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but most of all I was following a voice from inside of me. My voice, finally.

I said “a mad act of love”. The day before my flight to Rio, Rome (I was still living in Rome) was ironically hit by a sudden, unusual and sensational SNOW STORM! It snowed all day, and Romans can confirm that our beloved city is totally not prepared or equipped to face that kind of emergency. The result was that a lot of flights were cancelled, all the buses were stopped and you could barely see a car circulating (let alone a taxi). I spent the night attached to the computer screen, praying that my flight would not be cancelled, with my parents not understanding why was that trip so important to me. Surprisingly my flight from Fiumicino Airport remained confirmed, so the morning after (at 5.30 a.m.) I left my house and dragged my heavy suitcase in the snow, walking for one kilometer to reach the nearest tube station. Buses were still down, so I had to catch two trains, praying to make it to the airport on time. On my phone some of my friends were rooting for me via sms. I made it. I checked in and I flew to Rio.

This is a photo album with some beautiful memories of that holiday and that fascinating city.

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The exhibition “India!” at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil was the first event I attended upon my arrival in Rio, and it was spectacular. It surely triggered my interest towards exploring and getting to know Asia, the cultures and traditions of that part of the world that was unknown to me. The exhibition included interactive and musical lectures about Hinduism and Buddhism, and rooms of marvellous contemporary art.

I can’t quite describe the feeling I had when I walked along the seaside at Ipanema and Copacabana. I remember that for the first couple of days the sun was pale, and the sky was a bit cloudy and misty… The beach was enveloped in a magical halo, and I experienced a sense of total freedom and fullness. It was like walking on air. Was it the love high? Sure, that played a big part, but the scenery I was surrounded by was mesmerising.

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There’s a rock formation that separates the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and if you climb to the top you can have probably the best view of all the surrounding area.

When I took the following picture I knew immediately the title I would have given to it: “Listen”. That was the moment I finally realised the importance of listening carefully to ourself, to our inner voice. Never leave it unheard.

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Brazilian people are probably one of the kindest people you would meet in the world. Much alike us Italians, they open their heart easily and they love to make you feel at home. On sale along the street in Copacabana I saw this t-shirt saying “Gentileza gera gentileza” (“Kindness generates kindness”). It doesn’t happen always, unfortunately, but we should never give up on this idea. We should generate the change that we want to see around us, everyday. More kindness is what we need.

“Pão de Açúcar” means “sugar loaf”: it’s the iconic cone-shaped mountain you see in many pictures of sunsets over Rio. The summit is reachable by a cable car system that stops halfway on top of the shorter peak Morro da Urca. On the top of Pão de Açúcar the vegetation is flourishing and you have the chance to spot many little monkeys jumping between trees (it was basically impossible for me to take an unblurred photo of them) and tiny colourful parrots. Heavenly place.

Another iconic peak, Corcovado. Where the statue of Christ The Redeemer welcomes all tourists and pilgrims with arms wide open and eyes of wisdom. We took the train through the natural park, then walked up to the top. I remember that the wind was so strong we had to grab each other arms and ground ourself to the floor. But how spectacular it was… The city from up there looked Lego made. And in my ears the lyrics of  that famous Antônio Carlos Jobim’s song called “Corcovado” were resonating so brightly:

“…E eu que era triste
Descrente deste mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade meu amor…”

And then there were beach days. And long walks drinking coconuts with a straw. Abundant food cooked with care. Promises for the future and life lived for the moment. And Christmas trees, because it was already Christmas season! So strange for me to see Christmas settings in a summer weather for the first time!

There was all this and much much more, in the space of ten days. There was Tay, who I’ll always thank for that little window of time when our paths have crossed, really. And there was Rio, with all its magic.

(Oh and we saw this live. Awesome.)

5 beaches in Algarve where I’ve been and I loved them!

Before going back to the gloomy, rainy summer we’re having in London this year (really, London? Come on, we all know you can be lovely with a bit of sun!), I want to share with you some tips about beaches I recommend for your holiday in Portugal. Ready, set, go.

1) Praia da Dona Ana (Lagos)

Beautiful beach cove in Lagos that you must see! Enjoy the boat tour that departs from here every hour, cruising all along and inside the mesmerising grottos and cliffs. My absolute favourite of the Algarve region.

 

 

2) Praia dos Buizinhos (Porto Covo)

This is another fantastic bay enclosed between cliffs, reachable via stairs, with a stunning view from the top. The sea is metallic blue and the waves breaking against the rocks are spectacular.

 

 

3) Praia da Galé (Albufeira)

If you, like me, enjoy long long walks on the shore and taking pictures of rock formations, then you should spend a day in Praia da Galé.

 

 

4) Praia dos Alemães (Albufeira)

Located between Praia dos Aveiros and Praia do Inatel, this beach has a tucked away bay, with a rock barrier built to prevent erosion (perfect frame for your Instagram pictures!). A wooden staircase takes you up the top, where the views of the glorious vegetation and the coastal landscape are simply stunning! One of the highlights of my latest Portuguese holiday, definitely.

 

 

5) Praia dos Pescadores (Albufeira)

You can’t go to Albufeira and not spend at least one day and one evening in and around Praia dos Pescadores. During the day it’s a long sandy beach, full with people, with an inflatable waterpark (you have to swim to reach for it!) and sport activities. At sunset the colours are simply magic, and when the night falls you can stroll along the high top of Albufeira town, enjoying the view in the moonlight.

 

Have you ever been on holiday in the Algarve? What are your favourite spots? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below! 🙂

Lisbon: a tale of love and life portrayed on blue tiles

 

Lisbon is always a good idea. I’ve just come back from the third Portuguese holiday of my life and it confirmed my thoughts firmly. Lisbon welcomes you wrapping its warm and strong arms around you, then it takes your hands, looks into your eyes with a cheeky grin and spins you in a twirl, before taking you out for one of those fresh, magic summer nights that you would never want to end.

“It’s the weather. It’s always sunny and that reflects on people, people are nice” says Ricardo, who grew up in Lisbon before moving to London fourteen years ago. “It’s the display of the city, it’s old and new at the same time and these two aspects seem to cohabit perfectly with each other”. Like a song by Ana Moura, that’s what I think while he continues talking about his hometown. “Lisbon is a capital, but you can still relax… It’s not overcrowded with people in constant rush, numbed by their daily routines, and the pace is much slower than London…”.

That’s exactly the first impression that strikes when we get off the train in Cais do Sodré, once we manage to leave the station full of vacationers heading to the beach at this time of the year, and while we walk on the lush promenade along the riverside. The area has been renovated in the past five years and now it’s the perfect stroll path to enjoy the sun, the drinks and the suggestive view of the bridge, before arriving to the spacious and central Praça do Comércio.

Passed the Arco de Rua Augusta you are ready to see the core of Lisbon, walking on the beautiful cobbled streets and enjoying the colourful tiled facades of the buildings. The traditional Portuguese tiles used to decorate public and private spaces since the 13th century are called azulejos, from the word “azul” (the colour blue, dominant tone of the tiles).

On the left you’ll soon meet the imponent Elevador de Santa Justa, a big metal elevator designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel: it connects the “low” part of Lisbon to Largo Do Carmo, in the Bairro Alto district. Arriving to the gigantic square of Rossio you can see, on the right hand side from a distance, the beautiful Castelo de São Jorge. Rossio is paved with black and white cobbles in a wave pattern, which brings my mind back to when I was in Rio De Janeiro, walking along the coast of Copacabana. The decor of pavements and buildings in Lisbon is so unique, and it certainly plays a big role in making this city memorable, together with other elements like the traditional trams on railway, the radiant bouganvillea plants, the old shops selling salted codfish and sardines, the pastelarias (bakeries and pastry shops, pure heaven for a sweet tooth like me), the melancholic fado music that echoes from cafes in the evening… Well I could go on for pages and pages, but instead I will let some of the pictures I’ve taken do the talking.

One of my favourite places in Lisbon is surely Alfama. Probably the oldest part of the city, it miracolously survived the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake, managing to mantain all its pitoresque beauty: with its narrow streets and white houses and stairways it reminds you of some Greek island or South-Italian village, but still has its own special feel. One of the best areas to stroll and shop for wonderful pieces of local craft. The little shops and ateliers will delight your eyes with gorgeous pottery, azulejos, art prints and blown glass creations. Do like I did: buy yourself a beautiful red fish made of glass. (Don’t do like I did: don’t break it while you’re doing the dusting at home because you’re clumsy like an elephant smeared with butter on a crystal stepladder). Around the 13th of june, when Lisbon celebrates St. Anthony, Alfama’s streets are decorated with multicoloured buntings and you can indulge in lovely street food (don’t forget to try the grlled sardines, one of the typical specialities of Portoguese cuisine). This part of the city is ideal to experience the fascinating world of fado music. I suggest you to have a nice dinner at a “casa do fado” and even if you don’t speak Portuguese I’m sure you’ll go home at night singing a couple of those tunes you’ll hear, guaranteed! But before dinner, don’t forget to enjoy a stunning view on the city from the Miradouro da Graça.

My Portuguese holiday included some other places, at a reasonable distance from Lisbon, really worth seeing. Here we go!

Belem – It’s the area where you can have the most fresh and delicious pasteis de nata (see next post about Portuguese food)! Have a walk along the riverside and you’ll find the amazing monument called Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Take pictures from different angles, the results are always stunning! Climb to the top (there’s a lift actually) to take beautiful panoramic shots and enjoy the mosaics on the ground below. Don’t forget to visit the Tower of Belem and Geronimo’s Monastery if you have time between pasteis de natas. I barely had any. (Time, not pasteis de nata.)

Cascais – Take the train from Cais Do Sodré to reach this lovely summer retreat near Estoril. Visit the old Fortaleza and the Boca do Inferno (a cliff with an open cave in the rock formed by the ceaseless pounding of the Atlantic waves), enjoy the beauty of the views and stop in a cafe called “Sacolinha” for a lush breakfast with the best pastries and sweet treats ever! (Yes I know, sugary food again… Well, don’t forget to brush your teeth, kids.)

Sintra – Perched upon a hill, Sintra is a really fascinating city and UNESCO World Heritage Site: walking in its natural parks and gardens opens up your lungs and the views are spectacular. Visit the Moors Castle, and try a sandwich with presunto e queijo da Serra from the stalls of local products that you find in front of Palacio Nacional.

Obidos – If you have a car, go and visit this lovely village, home of the delicious ginjinha liquor (see next post)! Very suggestive especially in the evening, with an unmissable Medieval Fair occurring every summer between July and August, where you’ll see a real Palio at sunset, and you’ll drink sangria in characteristic clay mugs that you can take home with you! You’ll absolutely love the experience, guaranteed.

Well… I can’t wait for my Portuguese holiday number 4! This time, if everything goes according to my plans, I’m going to see the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 live! I will keep you updated with news! 🙂

One weekend ago in Rome

Last weekend was quite intense. Everytime I go back to Rome I get assaulted by an army of mixed emotions… My hometown squeezes my heart in its hand, it seduces me, it scares and surprises me, it makes my blood race and my forehead sweat… It makes me cry for what I’ve left behind and makes me understand what I’ve actually never left… It makes me anxious because I would like to see the people of my family happy and with no struggles… Rome feeds me high carbs until my belly aches and then sings to my sleep, just to wake me up all of a sudden with rays of sun that sting my eyes.

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So, what did I manage to do last weekend in the tiny space of those three very sunny days? First of all I had the pleasure and honour to be best man at my best friend’s wedding! Fabio tied the knot with the beautiful and lovely Cristina in the gorgeous scenery of Borgo Le Grazie in Manziana, a countryside borough near Bracciano. The wedding was perfectly planned and curated by Serena and her team at Italian Event Planners, here are some pictures so you can have an idea of the wonderful and detailed job that made this day even more memorable!

 

When I visit Rome I usually try and see as many friends as possible, running all over the city and grabbing a coffee with each of them (which makes my liver beg me to stop), but this time the available hours were definitely not enough. I managed anyway to see a bunch of the loveliest people, with some newborn additions as you can see in the pictures, and it really warmed my heart. Although I love my independent life in London, my Italian friends and family will always be that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

 

My sister Silvia organised a brunch at her house for us three siblings and she decided to cook more than all the contestants of a season of Masterchef put together. Savoury muffins, baked pasticcio, gratin veggies, puff pastry twists, breaded chicken goujons, spinach and potato tarts, Ascolan olives… Carbs galore accompanied by prosecco, and after half an hour we became the humans of the last part of the movie Wall-E.

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Yes I’ve eaten a lot, but I’ve walked a lot too (oh, the sweet ethereal illusion that it could have possibly counterbalanced…)! It’s basically impossible too see Rome thoroughly in a week holiday, let alone having only one day and wanting to see the most of it, but if you are keen on walking until your Fitbit combusts spontaneously and enjoying practical and delicious street food instead of sitting down for lunch, then you’re ready to jump to the next post called…

Rome wasn’t walked in a day but f**k it I’m gonna bloody try.