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.)

Photodiary of a weekend in Bath

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Some weeks ago I had the pleasure to spend a lovely weekend (despite the weather, it basically rained the whole freaking time) with friends in Bath, in the countryside region of Somerset (UK). It’s the perfect weekend getaway from London! Easily reachable via train (but we went by car, which is cheaper and gives you more freedom of course), Bath is famous for its natural hot springs and it still preserves a bath system built by the Romans in the 2nd Century! And every thing that the city has to offer is within walking distance from the station and from the main street. This is a photo-diary of those two days, enjoy and… go visit Bath!

The river Avon, which crosses the city and has a walkable promenade.

Parade Gardens, with a beautiful flower sculpture dedicated to the novelist Jane Austen, who spent in Bath five important years of her life and career. At 40 Gay Street you can even visit the Jane Austen Centre, a picturesque permanent exhibition where you can go back in time to the beginning of the 19th Century.

IMG_20170725_075549_831If you like whiskey you can’t miss this place called The Hideout, a stone-walled bar for real connoisseurs, with a warm and friendly atmosphere!

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Bath Abbey and the Pump Room, where you can have a good afternoon tea right next the Roman Baths.

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The experience of the Roman Baths is a must-do, especially in the evening when the torch lights enhance the magic of that place. The path describes very well the everyday life of the Romans, and you can see perfectly preserved objects and architectural structures. A company of actors recreate scenes from the Roman age and accompany the tourists on their walk.

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We stopped at Boston Tea Party for cakes, coffee and herbal tea, and it was very nice!

More views of the city, walking towards The Circus. The umbrellas installation is located just inside Southgate Shopping Center (Southgate St, Bath BA1 1AQ).

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Dinner time! Probably because of the Roman origin, Bath is full of Italian restaurants 😀 We chose Nonna’s Cucina Italiana, very stylish place and delicious food! I had Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) as starter, and a rich mushroom risotto, all accompanied by an Apulian wine called Primitivo. Highly recommended if you fancy an Italian dinner!

The morning after we had a good breakfast at Rosarios, and then we visited the Victoria Art Gallery . We crossed Pulteney Bridge and we went exploring the other side.

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We stumbled upon a rugby field! I thought it was a croquet field. I’ve never been too good at sports.

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What a great surprise was The Holburne Museum! Full of art and antiques, with a gorgeous park attached. We had a nice wander through the building and enjoyed the green surroundings… and we got caught in the rain again!

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I definitely want to visit Bath again soon. Probably in springtime, hoping to find a drier weather 🙂 On my bucket list for next Bath weekend:

  • Experience the open-air rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa
  • Visit Alexandra Park for more spectacular views
  • Have a traditional full afternoon tea

and….

…visit Stonehenge on the way back to London (this time it wasn’t possible due to limited time)!

Have you been in Bath? What are your favourite spots? And what do you suggest for my next trip?

 

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! 🙂

Oh, you’ll love cozinha portuguesa, com certeza!

If anyone hasn’t noticed yet, everytime I talk about travelling I talk about food. It’s kind of an automatic reflex, I guess it comes from the fat kid trapped in my body. So, after talking about the magical Lisbon and before I dedicate another post to the stunning coast of Portugal, let me start a brief insight into Portuguese food. Fasten your seatbelts, these are my suggestions:

Lunch and dinner

Meals in Portugal usually start putting on the table various petiscossmall bites to open up your appetite. Usually it’s a basket of sliced bread along with butter and spreadable pâtés of tuna, sardines and/or cheese, accompanied by a pot of good olives. Often you can find quejo fresco (fresh firm cheese with a very delicate flavour) or other kinds of cheese (I’m a big fan of the cow and sheep milk one, which is still soft but cured and creamy).

As a starter I suggest you to try the appetising croquetes made with chicken or pork meat (or the gorgeous version with codfish), or the rissóis de camarão, deep fried satchels stuffed with creamy shrimps… an absolute delight.

The typical Portuguese dish is bacalhau (salted codfish) cooked in many ways. My favourite recipes are bacalhau com natas (baked with potatoes, onions and a delicious cream, with a layer of cheese gratin on top… My tastebuds just had an orgasm. A multiple one) and bacalhau à brás (prepared in a casserole with eggs, onion, a fine julienne of potato fries, olive and parsley).

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If you are visiting the coast of Portugal don’t forget to try cataplana de mariscos (a casserole with yummy seafood in tomato and garlic sauce) and the already mentioned (in my previous post) grilled sardines, and especially if you are in Portimão I suggest you the zapateira (a giant crab with a tender and juicy meat).

As an option for those who don’t like fish and seafood (really? why? have you tried to seek professional help?) there’s a very simple and rustic dish that I like to order, called bitoque: it’s basically a pan fried steak of beef or pork with an egg on top, served with chips, rice and salad. A full meal in one plate that will keep you going all day!

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Originary from the area of Porto is the francesinha, a cube shaped club sandwich with ham, meat and cheese, all coated in cheese and sitting proudly in a beef gravy. They certainly know how to make a sandwich sexy.

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Street food 

Portugal has a nice selection of street food that you can devour during celebrations, city fairs or summer seasons. If you’re particularly hungry try the bifana, a soft bread bun filled with grilled pork meat, or the appetising pão com chouriço, a roll of bread dough wrapped around the good Portuguese spicy salami: during the baking process, the chouriço releases juice that infuses the bread, maximising the flavour.

Sweet treats

My favourite paragraph! Portugal is famous worldwide for its pasteis de nata, custard tarts of crunchy puff pastry with a caramelised sugar layer on top, served sprinkled with cinnamon. It’s tradition, when in Portugal,to have at least one pastel de nata per day (it’s my tradition, to be specific). But the country has a whole rich array of pastries that are absolutely gorgeous. Bolas de Berlim are big balls of fried donut dough filled with doce de ovo (a custard made mainly with egg yolks and sugar) or chocolate, or, in some heavenly occasions, with doce de leite. Travesseiro is a puff pastry cilinder with icing sugar on top, typical of the Sintra region, and queijada is a baked little milk cake (also available in a version infused with orange juice, called queijada de laranja). Speaking of proper cakes, my favourite is undoubtedly pudim, a light flan made with eggs, sugar and milk, cooked in bain-marie or oven baked, in a caramel sauce. Ok, I need to have my glycaemia levels checked now.

Drinks

In Portugal, sangria seems to be the refreshing drink of choice, available in various versions (try the muscatel one!) all over the territory. Of course you can’t leave the country without having tried Porto, the characteristic fortified wine, or the Vinho Verde (young and lightly bubbly). But above all, what I strongly recommend you is to enter the seductive and magic world of Ginjinha. It’s a sour cherry liquor, sweet and voluptuous, served in little cups made of dark chocolate: you drink the shot and you eat the cup straight after. It’s pure sex. Tradition wants that everytime you see the word “ginjinha” written outside a bar you must enter and have one (again, it’s my tradition, of course).

I hope this little smattering of Portuguese food was helpful! Tell me about your experience, what are your favourite things to order when you’re in Portugal?

 

[Note about the pictures: the images in this post are pictures I took during my stay in Portugal, along with some other ones I found on Pinterest. If you own any of the latter please let me know and I’ll credit you properly, or remove them if you don’t want them to feature in my post 😉 ]

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! 🙂

Rome wasn’t walked in a day but…

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

Ready. Set. Go. Start having a good breakfast. Have a cappuccino or an espresso and indulge in croissants and pastries without worrying too much about the sugars (you’ll burn plenty of them and anyway holidays are not made for fasting). Take the A Line tube and get off in Flaminio, which will be the starting point of our itinerary. Cross the arches and walk through the beautiful Piazza Del Popolo, absolutely at its best in the early morning. From there you’ll notice in the middle the big Via del Corso, main street for shopping, but I suggest you to walk instead on the parallel street on the left hand side, Via del Babuino: this will lead you straight to Piazza Di Spagna/Trinità Dei Monti (the Spanish Steps).

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Once you took a lot of pictures in that lovely spot, walk along Via dei Condotti (if you already need another coffee pop into Caffè Greco, the oldest bar in Rome!) and admire all the posh shops that us poor mortal people could never afford, then turn left to re-enter Via del Corso. Soon on the right hand side you’ll find Palazzo Chigi and Piazza di Montecitorio, the headquarters of the creme de la creme of the current Italian political class… which makes them totally avoidable and unworth seeing. Cross the road instead and enjoy the fresh shade of Galleria Alberto Sordi. Exit at the back, keep on walking straight ahead in that narrow street and you will soon magically find yourself in front of the marvellous Fontana di Trevi, finally free from scaffoldings after its renovation and now whiter than white. It always takes my breath away.

 

Throw a coin backwards right into the water (tradition wants this is the ritual to assure yourself a comeback to the Eternal City) and walk back to Via Del Corso, turn left and follow the signs to reach the immortal Pantheon, colossal Roman temple lit by natural light coming from a circular opening on the ceiling. The area around the Pantheon is nice to have a lovely ice cream to refill your sugar levels after the walking. Three suggestions: the traditional and evergreen Caffè Giolitti, the exuberant Della Palma (150 different flavours of gelato!) and Venchi (specialised in sumptuous chocolate creations).

 

Now take the road on the right hand side of the Pantheon and walk all the way to Largo di Torre Argentina; after watching stray cats sunbathing on the ruins, walk towards Piazza Navona, where you can admire the wonderful works of Bernini and Borromini, and sit on a bench to give your legs some relief. Once you’re ready go back to the main street were you came from, cross the road and walk until you find yourself in the buzzing and coloured market of Campo De’ Fiori. Here you can find delicious Italian products (fruit and vegetables, but also cheese, cured meats, liquors, sauces and preserves… don’t be shy and ask to try some, they give free shots of Limoncello very often!). This can be a good area where to have a food pit-stop: enjoy some pizza by the slice, a focaccia with mozzarella and Parma ham or mortadella, or go for a mix of fried snacks as arancini, supplì, stuffed courgette flowers (I go crazy for them) or filetto di baccalà (battered cod fillet). Head back to Largo di Torre Argentina and enter inside the lovely area of the former Jewish Quarter.

 

Keep walking until you reach Portico D’Ottavia (it’s partially covered by scaffoldings but it’s always very suggestive). Dont forget to buy jewish biscuits or a cherry tart at the bakery near the restaurant before you head to Piazza Venezia. You are ready now to experience the core of Ancient Rome: from Piazza Venezia you can access Via dei Fori Imperiali, a long boardwalk that exhibits the ruins of temples and foras from the age of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc…, and ends right in front of the famous Colosseum! The next stop from the Colosseum is Circo Massimo (if you’re tired you might consider taking the B line tube for a stop. But you will lose points on my walking challenge :D).

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Circo Massimo is a spectacular ancient stadium, once used for chariot racing and mass entertainment, with beautiful tall pine trees… On your way to the Lungotevere (the side bank of the river Tiber) don’t forget to pay a visit to the Bocca della Verità, location became famous for the movie Roman Holiday . Put a hand inside the mouth and be sure you say the truth or it will be brutally chopped off (no it won’t). Walk along the Lungotevere until you find Ponte Fabricio, cross that bridge and you’re on the Isola Tiberina, a real island right in the middle of the river, which lights up during summer nights with lively bars, restaurants and market stalls (and even an open air cinema arena). Once crossed the bridge on the other side (Ponte Cestio) it’s time for a very important stop: you are ready to be initiated to the Roman summer ritual of grattachecca. At this traditional kiosk called La Sora Mirella (which along with La Sora Maria in Prati represents the temple of Roman grattachecca) you can see these guys hand-scratch big blocks of ice in front of you, filling big cups with that ‘snow’ that will be topped with fruit syrups and chunks of fresh fruit as you desire (my favourite ones are the Preziosa and the SuperFrutta, I’m literally mouthwatering while I’m writing). Sit on the fence and enjoy this simple yet luxuriously refreshing thing, while you rest your legs a bit.

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At this point the evening is probably approaching, but before the sun starts to go down you can enjoy a stroll along the narrow streets of Trastevere, heart of what is called the “Romanity” and one of my favourite areas in Rome… If you feel like you’ve seen enough and you’re ready to sit down for a well deserved dinner or an aperitivo (the ritual of having drink and nibbles with friends) you can find plenty of places here, otherwise I have two more suggestions, depending on your energy levels:

  • “I still feel like Iron Man” – …then climb up the Passeggiata del Gianicolo until the top, where you can embrace an uphill view of the city, lovely at sunset;
  • “I can still walk but I’d rather french-kiss Theresa May than walk uphill” – …then keep following the Lungotevere until you reach Ponte degli Angeli and Castel Sant’Angelo (splendid setting of Puccini’s opera Tosca), another beautiful place where to savour the light of the end of day.

 

You may have noticed that I haven’t included in this itinerary St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museums. Well, that part belongs to Vatican City, so it’s technically not Rome, and the visit to the Vatican Museums would take a considerable chunk of your day, so I suggest it if you have more time in your hands, not if if you want to grasp the spirit of Rome in one day. But sure, both from Castel Sant’Angelo and from Gianicolo it’s very easy to take Via Della Conciliazione and reach the magnificient St. Peter’s Square in the evening, when it’s not packed with tourists and you can enjoy its splendour.

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An alternative lovely spot where to bathe in the Roman sunset is the Terrazza del Pincio of Villa Borghese. Take the tube back to Flaminio (which is were this tour has started, so it makes perfect sense!), climb the stairs and hug your beloved one watching the sun go down on Piazza Del Popolo.

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This itinerary has been consciouscly made very extreme: it covers an insane amount of kilometers, so you might consider skipping something or take advantage of the tube service. And there is still so so much I’ve left out of this list of places… You never finish to see Rome, that’s the truth. Born and bred there, I still haven’t and my eyes still widen with marvel at every corner. My final suggestion, if you have more than one day of time: just wander and lose yourself. And when you see something that looks like an ordinary church or a normal building from the outside don’t trust the book by its cover, go inside instead: Rome is full to the brim of beautiful surprises that you don’t find on the guidebooks.

Have you ever been to Rome? What’s your most amazing memory?

 

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.

The Rhodes I’ve walked

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“Now, immerse both your feet slowly into the tanks… You will feel a tickling sensation, like you have pins and needles…”, the long white-haired man said. As I followed his direction, I felt those little fish gather around and all over my feet, ready to binge on my skin cells, and my ticklish self was about to start laughing and twitching, but after a few instants I felt the tension of my body release, all of a sudden, and I dropped my shoulders. “Close your eyes, I want you to feel like you’re at home”.

I had never tried what they call a fish spa before. I was wandering in the Old Town of Rhodes and two friends suggested me to try this little place, where the old owner (he must have been a hippy, a backpacking adventurer, or simply somebody who knew a lot and learnt how to read people very well) would combine the exfoliating fish experience with an amazing foot massage, for just 10 euro.

“Keep your eyes closed, you don’t have to feel any hurry or pressure…”. As my breath eased and became deeper, I started flicking through my memories of Rhodes. It was my last day on that island and in that moment I realised how much of my personal story was associated with that place. The first time I went to Rhodes I was escaping. It was seven years ago, on a summer, I had just left an important relationship behind and I was dragging myself from a gig to another of a theatrical play I was in, without really being there mentally… I needed to clear my mind about a lot of things, but in order to do that I needed to take some distance from everything and everybody, so one day I impulsively stepped into a travel agency and asked what was their best suggestion for a short holiday by the sea for a solo traveller. “A Greek island”, the lady answered.

I’ve spent a week by myself enjoying metallic blue seascapes, beautiful beaches and clear waters… Kalithea is a small rocky bay, famous because of some magnificent Baths built by Italians and no longer active, with a restaurant and stylish rattan and wrought-iron sunbeds (be careful because the armrests can become easily incandescent in the sun, branding your forearm for life. Joking, only for a few days). Faliraki is a more commercial and young-vibey beach, it extends for more than five kilometres and it’s full of bars (with very affordable and good cocktails!) and clubs, with a vibrant night life. Basically if you want to find Faliraki just follow the yelling of drunk groups of Germans or Brits, you can’t go wrong. (Yes, ok, we Italians are loud too. But we go to Mikonos mainly). A great option is to opt for a boat cruise from the port of Mandraki to have a glimpse of all the best beaches that this island has to offer (including the lovely Anthony Quinn’s Bay , named after the actor starred in The Guns of Navarone, shot right on location), and if you have an extra day you can even consider a boat trip to the lovely Marmaris (Turkey).

While my mind was lost in the memory of swimming (well, “smimming”… more floating and splashing around with the grace of a baby hippo) in Greek clear waters, the relaxing feeling of those little fish had irradiated from my feet up my legs and I was experiencing a lightness I hadn’t felt in a while. “Now we take the feet out of the tanks and rest for a minute… then we can put them in again”, the man instructed me and guided my movement, drying my feet with a robust paper towel. There was such mastery in all that ritual… My mind went back in time again.

The second time I have been in Rhodes was on my seven month contract as singer on board Costa Victoria in 2011. We used to dock in Mandraki regularly every Friday and that was when I got familiar with the suggestive old part of the city, enclosed in medieval walls. The cobbled streets, the Palace of the Knights, the hundreds restaurants and cafes where to lunch al fresco under lavish pergolas, the shops selling handcrafted creations, olivewood utensils (there’s a weird trend of penis shaped bottle-openers, in various sizes and designs) and local natural products (don’t miss almonds and pistachios in honey or the little wicker bowls with a selection of spices to recreate the delicious Greek cuisine at home… and stock on olive oil soap bars, especially the ones with mint and argan oil, so nice and gentle on your skin and a convenient idea for small presents!). Walking through the Old Town of Rhodes you will find a little square with some sort of well in the middle, where you can take a picture of yourself with two big and colourful parrots. Don’t do it if you’re wearing a hoodie though, because those two little buggers would start munching on the straps of your jumper destroying them in a couple of milliseconds.

Another great memory of that time was when, with my friends Giangi and Vittoria, we rented a car to go and visit Lindos. Lindos is a village perched on a hill, where the typical Greek whitewashed houses alternate with cobbles and terracotta brick walls, with a lot of cute photo spots, and if you climb up to the top you will find the perfectly preserved ruins of the Acropolis and the archeological site, that shimmer like gold in the blinding sun. One of the options to reach the acropolis is riding one of the local donkeys available at the foot of the hill, but I honestly don’t endorse this practice, mainly because the conditions in which these poor animals have to live and work don’t seem to be very healthy. So no donkey, just move your bumcheeks and carry a bottle of water at all times. Hiring a car (or a quad bike!) is probably the best way to enjoy the island thoroughly, not only cruising along the coast but visiting the inside to get in contact with the local life and traditions.

I cherish a huge amount of memories from that season in Rhodes but a lot of them are very personal and I don’t want to sound too cheesy and romantic. I’ll just say that if you happen to be at the beach in Mandraki near the Casino, and you take a long walk on the shore you can reach the top point of the island… well, on that triangular stripe of pebble beach surrounded by the sea, somewhere there should be a piece of my heart I left while I was living one of the best moments of my life. (Ok, now we can play any random 90’s boyband tune you like.)

The white haired man finished my foot massage and used a warm towel to remove the excess of cream, suggesting me to use cotton socks more often instead of sporty acrylic ones, and to always make sure that my feet are perfectly dry even if I’m on a rush after a quick shower before work. I was feeling completely relaxed, like I was floating on air. He then added: “These are complicated times for everybody. It’s perfectly natural to worry about money, about the job, about the future… what is not natural is to let all these things affect us on a daily basis. As human beings we have a great power that we often don’t realise. We can always reach a mental state of peace and lucidity, we can always find our relaxation even in stressful times. We just have to connect with ourselves, we have to find time for ourselves. We have to listen to ourselves more.”

Sometimes life puts on our path random people that we probably won’t see ever again but they manage to say the words we needed to hear or make the perfect action to help us in that particular moment. That’s what I thought while I was walking back to the ship, giving one last look at the medieval walls of the Old Town, with the smile of the new beginnings finally back on my face.

(It’s hard to locate places in the Old Town, most streets don’t even have a name, but if you want to find the fish spa of that old wise man I can try and give you some directions: once you reach the square with the parrots keep on walking and turn right; you’ll see shops that sell leather bags on the left and watches on the right… a few meters onwards, on the right corner, you will find the place.)

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Greek food: a story of love and lust

I’m not only writing a post, I’m actually baring my heart with this and I hope my other half doesn’t mind if I say that I’m desperately in love with Greece. Like I passionately want to make love with her islands, one by one. And send them flowers and open the car door for them and spoon with them at night. Ok stop, weirdo.

Before writing about my two favourite Greek islands, Rhodes and Santorini, the food lover in me wants to dedicate a special post to the Greek cuisine, because no travel experience can overlook the importance of the food component. I’m Italian, and I know it might sound cliché but I love good genuine food and all the memories I have of the places I’ve been are tightly intertwined with my gastronomic experiences.
I don’t how many of you are familiar with Greek food… so, before exploring the wonders of the two pearls of the Aegean Sea I’ve mentioned earlier, here is a quick gastronomic guide which includes some of the dishes I madly stuffed my face with during my Greek days.

Tzatziki. It’s an entree dip, usually served with pita bread or sourdough bread, prepared with Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, extravirgin olive oil, mint and dill. I’m literally salivating like Pavlov’s dog while writing this, I think I might have to wipe dry my laptop keyboard. Anyway, tzatziki is delicious and sexy. Even though it gives you a garlic breath that can linger for days, compromising your social interactions, but it’s a risk worth taking.
Taramosalata. A pink (but the colour can be paler, it depends on the type of ingredients used) paste made of fish eggs (carp or codfish, usually), lemon, olive, garlic and onions. Another one of my favourites. This kind of appetizers in Greece are called “mezze“, and you can often find restaurants that serve a mix of mezze including tzatziki, taramosalata and other dips like hummus, aubergines paste, feta and peppers paste, etc..
Talking about appetizers and small bites, make sure you try Saganaki (a slice of gruyere cheese battered and fried, often finished with honey and sesame seeds. Holy Mary mother of Christ.) and Tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters with a delicate taste of origan and mint, that will literally serenade your tastebuds before disappearing and leaving you heartbroken like your best Tinder date).

Main dishes. Definitely the Moussakà (the stress is on the second ‘a’ if you want to pronounce it correctly) is a must: a bake of layered sliced eggplant and potatoes, a rich tomato sauce, pork minced meat and bechamel sauce. You can even choose to indulge in any kind of Souvlaki (marinated and grilled meat on skewers) or try the Stifado, a beef stew with shallots and wine. If you are on the go or you’re looking for a filling snack, the Pita Gyros is the answer: a rolled pita bread filled with pork or chicken meat, tzatziki, onions, tomatoes and french fries. It’s highly addictive. No joking, I once had three in a day. ‘Cause I’m worth it.
Of course you always have the light option of a traditional Greek salad, made with feta cheese, black olives, tomato, cucumber and onion, which drizzled with a robust cold-pressed Greek olive oil is simply heavenly.
While in Greece, make sure you don’t miss the amazing seafood, even just some simple fried calamari sprinkled with black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. So good.

Dessertwise, you can’t end a meal without a taste of the house’s Baklava or Halva (both desserts are originally from Turkey)… and make sure that all your meal is accompanied by several glasses of Retsina, a delicious white wine flavoured with natural pine resin. (I don’t want to be the one who encourages alcohol consumption, but may I suggest a sip of Ouzo or Metaxa as well, at the end of the meal? There’s even a version of both spirits blended with coffee, what more can you ask for?)

Ok, now I’m hungry like a fasting sumo wrestler, so I’d better stop. Hope I made you curious to try this gorgeous cuisine, keep watching this space for my travel experiences and tips about Rhodes and Santorini!