[Video] My Croatian Days

42534148_10217603466258411_6906873226664607744_n

I sip my coffee and soak up this lazy early afternoon, while the scent of lavender and dry citrus zest from the local market tingles my nose. Dubrovnik is even better than I remembered. And what a fool I’ve been: I thought for a long time that I was only drunk in love when I was here last, six years ago… I was drunk on this stunning blue vault of sky instead, and on the green hues of this sea. “Croatia redefined the colour blue”, I write down on a paper napkin: I guess this would make the perfect caption for one of my Instagram posts.
I’m sitting here at a bar in the old town, gathering my thoughts about the few days just spent in this country, exploring and discovering gems I hadn’t even heard of before.

Starting with the village of Trogir, Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, sitting on a tiny island on the Split riviera. Minuscule and still so enticing, built almost entirely with a particular, precious kind of limestone that looks like marble. A strong wind called ‘Bura’, typical of this season, cleared the sky completely and created a crisp and inebriating air that married the bright sunshine perfectly, reminding me of those early October Sunday mornings of my childhood in Rome.

The perfect symbiosis between the ancient and the new was the element I liked the most in the renown summer destination that is Split, along with its beautiful waterfront and its cheeky cocktail bars.

42678824_10217621770235999_4063310821776687104_n

The biggest surprise for me was definitely the island of Hvar, with its luxuriant green mountains and rustic villages (like Starigrad and Vrisnik). If you visit Hvar you definitely must experience a Croatian Konoba: a typical family ran tavern, where to enjoy authentic olive oil, home-made cheese and ham and delicious wine (the rosé I tried in Vrisnik had a silky aroma of chestnut honey and fruits, and tasted heavenly). Highlight of this gorgeous island was the view from the top of the Spanish Fortress (‘Spanjola’), which is a silent and peaceful place, rarely invaded by big groups of noisy tourists and therefore really enjoyable.

At last, I’ve spent a beautiful morning in Rovinj, having breakfast by the pier where boats and yachts shelter in the sunshine, and exploring the stunning rocky coastline that peeks between this city’s colourful buildings, creating sudden glimpses of infinite blue.

My coffee and cake rest now peacefully in my belly, as I look up to the clock tower and smile lovely Dubrovnik goodbye, until we meet again. And for all you Wanderers, here’s my little video diary divided in two parts, so you can see the beauty of Croatia through my eyes… I hope it makes you feel the itch to visit this awesome country, because I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
Enjoy all this fantastic blue, and see you again soon!

20180927_090417_edited_edited

A weekend in Bruges

 

IMG_2987-01

Oh, Bruges.

Definitely one of those cities that you can’t help reminisce about with a little sigh, a comma and its name. Oh, Bruges… (yes, feel free to add an ellipsis as well, for extra drama.)

Romantic European getaway, relaxing and unusual hen-do destination, family friendly location or lone traveller’s mind-clearing retreat, this Belgian gem of a city needs to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. First of all, it’s the perfect city to see in a two-days weekend (even better if you have three days, of course). Really, you don’t need more time than that to soak up all Bruges’ beauty. Choose springtime, because of the good weather and because it tends to be packed with tourists in high season.

Bruges oozes with character. Think of Venice meets Siena, with bold brushes of colour and a lot of chocolate. Tons of chocolate.

From London St. Pancras, Eurostar trains take you to Brussels (so, if you have time, you can combine these two very different cities in the same holiday and it’ll be totally worth it!); from there you can continue your journey on a national train and it’s only 40 minutes more. Although Bruges is not exactly cheap, visiting on a budget is still possible, taking advantage of the Ibis Budget Hotel (located just outside the station, a short walk to the city centre and a good abundant morning breakfast!) or opting for an Air BnB dig.

What to see –  Everything! Just walk and lose yourself, you’ll always find your way to beautiful views. One of the two main squares is Markt (Market Square), famous for its unique and colourful pointy roofed buildings and for the Historium, museum that offers virtual historical tours and a wonderful view from its rooftop. Burg, the other one, is more tucked away, but it’s home to the magnificent gothic City Town Hall. You probably have seen a place called Rozenhoedkaai in the pictures of all your friends who visited Bruges before: this famous photo-spot overlooking the canal, with a suggestive weeping willow and typical architecture as background, is the main area for cafes and restaurants, you are really spoilt for choice. You can also visit Saint-Janshospital, which is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, with its own museum of artifacts not for the faint hearted. In the late afternoon (or at any time, really) don’t forget to have a long and relaxing stroll across Minnewater Park: expanding around what is known as the “Lake of Love”, this beautiful park will soothe your eyes and make you want to kiss a stranger on a bridge. Well, don’t. (Joking, follow your heart, sweetie).

What to eat  – You definitely should try the Flemish Stew (or Carbonnade Flamande), a stew of succulent beef chops slow cooked in dark beer and onions, served with crispy fries. Oh, so good. Or the famous Moules-Frites, delicious mussels cooked in wine, beer or cream and paired again with a rich side of fries. Fries and potatoes in general are massively present in Belgian cuisine, and you can try different kinds of mash as well as an alternative to the crispy sticks. Of course, being in Belgium, you have to indulge in the wonderful chocolate creations that this country provides. Go to Neuhaus (or to Elisabeth if you have time to kill when you’re in Brussels) and stock on the gorgeous assortment of lush pralines, truffles and bonbons that combine the finest Belgian chocolate with creams, fruit and nuts beyond your imagination. It’s pure sex. Another unmissable dessert in Bruges is Belgian waffles, fresh from the iron cast and topped with voluptuous mountains of cream, ice cream, fruit and/or flooded with thick melted chocolate. Delicious and quite filling. You can’t leave the Belgian border without having experienced a food baby from waffles. And of course be adventurous with the selection of crafted Belgian beers from the many beer bars in Bruges. I went for wine. I know: “Italians”.

What activities to do – Visit the many museums that Bruges offers! At the moment two big exhibitions of Picasso and Salvador Dali are snatching all the attention, but if you’re bored with Art you can find an Archeological Museum, a Chocolate Museum and even a Fries Museum! Pay a visit to the Brugs Biermuseum if you are fascinated by the whole process of creation of beer (and go wild on the sample tasting area!). Boat tours along the many canals in Bruges are another option that allow you to embrace the spirit of this lovely city. Or you can venture just outside the city centre and visit the windmills of Bruges, some of them still working and open to the public after three centuries.

What’s Instagrammable – Basically the whole city. But if we want to point out some highlights from Bruges let’s say that your Instagram feed can’t do without

  • the doors and the houses (with infinite colour combinations and quirky decorations);
  • weeping willows (really, they are so poetic);
  • strawberries dipped in chocolate;
  • the thousand small statues that you can spot on corners of buildings;
  • Tintin memorabilia;
  • waffles, waffles, waffles like there’s no tomorrow;
  • you on a bridge. And of course you and your loved one with the backdrop of Rozenhoedkaai (not going to share that one with you, hope you don’t mind 😀

I hope this post and my photodiary enticed you into visiting and discovering this precious city, that surely will stay in your heart much, much longer after the chocolate praline box from Neuhaus is finished. (Which usually happens on the way back to the hotel, it rarely survives one day. Mine didn’t, ça va sans dire.)

Have you been to Bruges? What did you love the most?

PhotoGrid_1531333591971

 

[Video] My Dublin Days – What to see, to do, to look for in Dublin!

PhotoGrid_1518257374105

Hello Wanderers!

I’ve just returned after my four-day city break to Dublin (actually to Dundalk first and then Dublin)! My first time ever in Ireland, which means I can add it to my list of countries visited so far, reaching the count of 39 (applause, epic Oprah music, confetti shower, hand waves with teary eyes).

Dublin, a capital that is so full of character and so human-friendly, with a pace of life distant light years from rat-racey London. A city that maintains a village feel, with its buildings that don’t aim to scrape the sky, its evergreen pub culture, its coloured doors. Oh those lovely doors! History says it was a way for the residents to put their personal flair to the strictly structured Georgian constructions; legend wants that it was an easy trick to be able to find their house when drunk, on the way back from the pub.

doors.jpg

Immersed in tradition, but at the same time a city that is undergoing a huge development, especially in the zone around the Grand Canal Docks: after a long walk surrounded by red brick houses and swans gliding peacefully on the waters we reach an area that reflects (still in its own particular way) the structure of London docklands, with modern buildings of multinational companies and mirror-windowed offices, flown over by flocks of seagulls. The feeling is that, after the surely risky and clumsily conducted Brexit manoeuvre, many important international companies are now transferring their operational headquarters from the UK to Ireland, setting up the country to a huge renaissance in terms of jobs and economic opportunities.

swans

I want to thank my wonderful locally based friends Herachya and Gianluca, that made me feel at home and made my Irish days memorable, helping me discover the best of places, food and things to do. So, would you guys know what I saw and did in Dublin and what I recommend? Cool, first of all…

Trinity College

You really shouldn’t miss this. The University’s green and cobbled internal yard is luxurious (especially on a sunny morning, and I was so lucky with the weather on those days, can’t believe it!) and you can breathe in the magnificence of the elegant buildings where Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett have studied. The College’s Library treasures original medieval gospel manuscripts (go and see the exhibition about the Book of Kells! Entrance is 13 euro, but you can see the incredibly detailed creation process of the book, from the stretch of calfskin to create the vellum, to the decorating work), and one of the most impressive book chambers worldwide: it’s called The Long Room (long indeed: 65 metres) and it houses two hundred thousands original books. You enter the room and you smell history. And the jawdropping arched ceiling, raised in 1860, will allow you to take stunning pictures!

The Spire

I’ve asked my friend Gianluca “where shall we meet?”, and he promptly replied “where all the people in Dublin meet: at the Spire!”. In O’Connell Street it’s impossible to miss this huge stainless steel monument. 120 metres high, like a gigantic whale tooth that rises to the sky (not really matching the style of the surrounding buildings, to be honest, but it’s an interesting contrast), the Spire replaced Nelson’s Pillar, destroyed by an IRA bombing in 1966. The monument illuminates the night sky in Dublin… and its tip swings when the wind is strong, sometimes up to 1,50 metres! (It’s perfectly safe, I just wanted to scare you a bit). Oh, don’t even bother trying to take a full picture of it, if not from a ridiculous distance (and even at that point, it will just look like a random lamp post).

PhotoGrid_1518203783133

Temple Bar

Temple Bar is the area on the south bank of the river where the most of Dublin’s artistic and cultural life takes place: live music, theatre, cinema and multimedia institutes and events, and a vibrant night life. Hallmark of this gorgeous area is of course The Temple Bar Pub , another to-go place in Dublin if you really want to get the feeling of the city.

IMG_20180209_200135_203

Statues of Dublin

Dublin is literally full to the brim of statues! It could be a nice game to play, walking around with friends and trying to spot them first. The James Joyce statue seems to stare at the Spire with a skeptical face, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find Oscar Wilde chilling on a rock in Merrion Square. Fun fact: Dubliners love to give quirky (and sexual) nicknames to statues and monuments, so that the statue of Molly Malone (heroine of a traditional Irish song) is often called “the Tart with the Cart”, James Joyce is addressed as “the Prick with the Stick” and the huge Spire column is commonly known as “the Pole in the Hole”, “the Stiffy at the Liffey” or even “the Erection at the Intersection”.

The National Gallery

What a gem! I highly recommend to spend a couple of hours admiring this amazing collection of the finest artworks by artists such as Perugino, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, and of course some real Irish masterpieces by Jack B. Yeats. I was mesmerised by the colour tones of two of the big rooms (one red, one teal), and how this precious gallery manages to merge a stunningly modern architecture and overall concept with timeless art from the past. Absolutely beautiful and FREE ENTRY (subscriptions are of course welcome).

IMG_20180208_154010_022

Embrace the pub culture to the fullest

Basically all the blogs and guidebooks list a visit to the Guinness Storehouse as a must-do thing in Dublin. Well, sure, if you are interested in seeing the whole process of preparation of this iconic beer it might be a nice experience, but tickets are quite pricey (around 18 euro) and it would take a chunk of your time in the city that you might prefer to use for other activities on a budget. What I suggest you is to scrap the Guinness Storehouse, and instead have your dinner meals at pubs that brew their own selection of beers: don’t miss for example the pubs of Galway Bay Brewery Company , that offer a delicious chocolate stout and vibrant red ales, along with finger licking pub food. If you have the chance (and if you feel young and reckless) sign up for a pub crawl. Pubs tell you a lot about the spirit of this city, the big heart of the people who live in it and the traditions of the whole country.

27946121_10215048831959198_457358320_o

And a few more tips:

  • Stroll in St. Stephen’s Park – it’s a gorgeous green space, and if you’re lucky with the weather it would be one of the most pleasant moments of your holiday.
  • Churches and Cathedrals – they are fantastic, I wish I had more time to visit all of them properly…
  • Enter Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre – the interiors of this mall look like a giant liberty style train station. Very Instagrammable.
  • Support local art – I already mentioned live music and theatre events, but if you want to bring home some exclusive pieces of Irish art & design I suggest you to visit the Jam Art Factory in Dublin zone 2, where you find fine art prints and decorative objects for a very affordable price!
  • Go for one-day getaways: Dublin is the perfect starting point to go and explore other marvellous areas in Ireland, reachable by train in one hour or so. The stunning Cliffs of Moher, Connemara and Galway City, Glendalough, Newgrange… If you have more than three days to spend in Dublin you might consider a day for one of these trips, you’ll be rewarded.

And this is all for now, but I can’t leave you without a little video-diary I’ve prepared for you while walking up and down the city. I’ve chosen to accompany the images with the voice of the extraordinary Dolores O’Riordan, Irish icon and one of the biggest idols of my adolescence, with a song that would give me the same shivers it gave me when I was 15, even if I listened to it thirty years from now.

Enjoy and… visit Dublin!

27951305_10215048832639215_337124988_o

 

 

 

Memories of a city – Rio De Janeiro [Brazil]

IMG_8005

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.

IMG_7948

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.

IMG_7983

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.

IMG_8033

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.)

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! 🙂

Ta-dah! The jar of sands!

I’ll start saying that I’m so proud of this project it makes me want to lock myself home, deactivate all my social media, turn off the phone and spend the rest of my life sitting on the floor and staring at it until I starve to death.

I’m joking.

During my eight month travelling on board Silver Cloud I’ve collected samples of sand from beaches and deserts around Europe, Africa and Asia with the idea, once back home, of layering them in a jar and see what could come out of it. Sand is such a fascinating and artistic matter, it comes in an infinity of colours and shades and once layered it can reveal subtle patterns and nuances you would never notice in normal circumstances.

Soon my idea of the “jar” seemed a little restrictive because after four months I had already collected 12 different samples… Towards the end of my contract on board I’ve made a selection, letting go the less interesting ones colour-wise and texture-wise. When the moment to fly home arrived I showed up at Athens airport with more than two kilograms and a half of sand wrapped in transparent, labelled plastic bundles, in my hand luggage. Of course I got stopped and questioned at border control, the agent examinated the whitest packages and looked at me with a “Really?” face, making me feel like the creepy weirdo that I probably am.

Once back home I started to build up my project: I bought a tall glass container from Muji, I’ve organized the samples alternating colours and textures and started pouring the sands, levelling them carefully and removing pebbles and other bits to make the layers look as smooth and homogenic as possible (see pictures below). Once finished I cut labels from a black chalkboard tape from Paperchase and wrote the places of collection for every layer. The final result turned out to be even better than I had envisioned it! There is still space on the top and I want to add a final layer of sand I will collect when I’ll travel to Portugal in July.

I hope I gave you a nice idea to create an object that would remind you of your travels everytime you look at it 😉 Let me know if you have or have created any nice travel memorabilia artefact, I would love to exchange creative ideas on this space. Bye for now!

The Rhodes I’ve walked

IMG_20170528_173837_433

“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.)

01

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!

Petra, the rose red city half as old as time

17884553_10212847653526065_893213187893061774_n
“Match me such a marvel,
save in Eastern clime,
a rose red city
half as hold as time…”
(John William Burgon)

One afternoon is really not much time, not even to grasp the magnificient beauty of Petra: a lost city, carved in rose-red rock, born two thousand years ago (although nobody really knows precisely when it was built). Indiana Jones made his way through its fascinating paths on the movie screen, but in the first century BC this city was already a huge commerce hub for traders in frankincense and spices. Over the years, the influence from the various empires that dominated Petra gave amazing architectonic structures and monuments to this city, which have been remarkably preserved to this day!

For more than ten centuries, Petra was abandoned and forgotten. Exception made to a local community of Bedouins, nobody lived there or visited for a long long time, and the city was considered a myth, kind of a lost Atlantis. In 1812, the Swiss explorer Johannes Ludwig Burckhardt convinced the Bedouins to let him in and when he found himself face to face with the Treasury (the city’s most magnificent facade), he understood the importance of writing about it and for everyone to know. And that’s what he did when he came back to Cairo, and Petra began attracting visitors from all over the world again.

In one afternoon I only managed to see half of the main things that the four kilometers walk offers. It’s almost impossible not to stop at every turn, gasp with marvel and take thousands of pictures. Petra reveals itself corner after corner in the first trait of walk, called the Siq, a passage in the rocks formed by water over the centuries.
Both naturally and artificially created, the Siq was crucial to control and distribute the water in the city, and with its system of channels it really helped preserving Petra to this day. While walking along the Siq, pay special attention to the horse carriages that ride at full speed (if you don’t want to be knocked down – I mean, there’s plenty of tombs in Petra, no need to add yours).

The Siq leads to the amazing Al Khazna Treasury, a pink stone building dated around 1 A.D., almost 40 metres high. Its impressive facade is beautifully decorated with figures and Corinthians capitals and is crowned by a funerary urn. Was it once used to store the Pharaoh’s treasure? That’s what the legend believes (the Pharaoh wanted a place big enough to contain all his treasure, because it was not safe for him to carry it around), but the exact purpose of this fenomenal building is still a fascinating mystery.
The Street of Facades parades a row of monumental tombs carved in the cliff, and it works as an interesting walk before arriving to the beautiful Theatre (carved at the foot of the High Place of Sacrifice), with its seven stairways of seats, able to accommodate up to 4000 spectators back in the day!

The Theatre was the last place in Petra that I’ve been able to see due to the short time available… A comeback is definitely on my bucket list, to complete the whole path and tick off the following must-sees:
– the Royal Tombs Trail
– the Numphaeum
– the Great Temple
– the High Place of Sacrifice
– the Monastery.

Petra is considered World Heritage Site, and one of the New Seven World Wonders. And it’s really worth a visit, because you won’t see anything like this in the whole world.
A legendary fable city that survived history and it reveals, in its richness and marvellousness, in front of your eyes.

Have you been to Petra? What was your exprience, and do you have any special suggestions?