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lunedì 24 ottobre 2011

Weekend in Turin

I have spent many weekends in this beautiful and lively city but I will start by describing my last one. Past the times when Turin was a grey industrial city where people would go for business, it has become one of the most popular destinations in Italy even amongst foreign travellers who make extra room in their journey, after the usual triangle Rome- Florence- Venice (sometimes extended to Milan for shopping.) Turin has known a sort of Reinassance period years ago for city development, music, culture, art and design. It has often been chosen as a set for many Italian movies and music videos expecially for Subsonica one of my favourite Italian bands. After the winter Olympics in 2006 the city has been boosting with life and art happenings. Let's not forget Turin (the whole Piedmont actually) is also one of the best places where to take a wine and food holiday and is the home of Slow Food " an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement. The movement has since expanded globally to over 100,000 members in 132 countries. Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products." (from Wikipedia)(even if the actual movement was born in Bra a little town close to Cuneo in the same region) : As I said I have spent many weekends in Turin since I have a few very good friends there , who are also very good guides and it takes really nothing to get there from Milan now with high speed trains. (Alta Velocità) The train may be very expensive though : 34 euros one way. As an alternative one can take the slowest train which takes almost two hours and it's much cheaper. (10 euros) The first thing to do once you get there is- in my opinion- drink a cup of coffee, of hot cocoa or of bicerin a combination of the two with some milk on top (delicious) to take the necessary energy to go and see the Cinema Museum in one of the oldest buldings in Turin which is also its symbol :the impressive Mole Antonelliana.
Museo del Cinema is one of the best museums I have ever seen and the setting is amazing but you have to go there to understand: everybody should try the thrill of taking the elevator which takes you to the top of the building in the middle of it, only surrounded by the void and of course the whole museum developed in height on all sides. I can't really describe in words: you really have to see it for yourself. After that, why not taking a stroll down the beautiful historic center ? Absolutely. While walking around take a look at all the magnificent buildings, which witness the history of this ancient capital and all of its culture.
It's probably time for lunch right? There are so many places where to go that you just have to pick and choose but let me just talk about the places where I went on my last trip. For a quick bite why not trying a fast food ? In Turin ? No way. More of an undercovered one ... Exactly: it's no fast food although it mght look like one but it's actually a high quality slowish food place masked as a Mac Donald kind of place. Ovbiously it's a place for meat eaters so I don't really qualify but there are tasty alternatives such as tomini (typical cheese with truffle oil or cherry tomatoes and arugula, or pears or chili). Originally it was called Mac Bun but now it's M*** Bun....
In the afternoon you can just wander around the streets and then maybe stop for some tea and some (very expensive ) shopping at Atelier Bistro Liù. For ladies only
And then is time for a drink before going to dinner. One of the best areas where to go is the " Quadrilatero Romano" which is the center of the historic center with the highest number of monuments and of course by bars and restaurants with an interesting crowd. Check out their website: Amongst the places my friends go to, one in particular is their favourite. It's called Freevolo and although it may seem a deja vu, in many other places in Italy or better in Europe, it has a certain something that keeps attracting people.
After that to try a different angle of the city one could try San Salvario where my friend took me last time, a working class neighbourhood which is becoming popular right now, and it's happening with restaurants and bars as well. My friend chose Bottega Baretti a very charming industrial -like place The specialty is pizza but as a very demanding Neapolitan I didn't taste it. I can be very fussy when it comes to pizza. That's a good ambiance, a great atmosphere and ... a lot of meat which was a little tricky for me . Not suitable for vegetarians then? No I would say you can easily get around it: bruschette , potatoes with cheese and chives and vegetables. Overall the place is really worth it and the service is very easy going and good . A lot of smiles : just the way I like it.
The next day if on a Sunday I would strongly suggest two things: 1) take a walk in the Borgo Po neighbourhood near the church of the Gran Madre, where of course you can visit the church but you can also wander around the stalls at the vintage market.You might find good bargains there although the prices are adapted to those of the very expensive boutiques which surround the market itself.. Well, it's also nice just to look and while you're at it, get a coffee at Caffetteria Regina where they have wonderful wonderful pastries...
2) Go and visit Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) a stunning museum set in a 200.000 square meters 17th century former repair shop for trains and locomotives. There will be a very interesting exhibition still on for a short while about the process of Italy's unification up to now, passing through the two world wars, the fascist regime, the immigration to the new continent etc. Until November only and I strongly reccommend it for Italians. However, even if you go when the exhibition will be finished you should still take a look at the complex and maybe have a drink (when it's warm) in the garden or a meal at the restaurant inside. You won't regret it. Believe me.
Well it's time to go back but Turin has a lot more to offer and is continuously changing and bursting with life and novelty so I know I will be back soon, and this time maybe I'll meet also the lead singer of Subsonica who, I have always had the hots for even if know very well I have long ago passed the age of being a groupie. Well let's say it's just an excuse that will keep me going back. In the meantime I'll listen to their music and plan my next weekend in Turin.

domenica 16 ottobre 2011

Pina - Trailer

Canção de Lisboa

These are the words which come to your mind when you listen to the cancao de Lisboa the famous song about this eternal, magnificent and impressive city. Actually from a first glance Lisbon can certainly give you that impression. At the same time though while walking aroung in the narrow streets and the beautiful and alittle decednt buldings your soul gets pervaded by a certain intense melancholy (at least that's what it did to me).. I always thought that a movie about Lisbon should be called Melancholia. You can hear it in fado, Potuguese traditional music which inspired also modern icons like Madredeus and that music and its intense sadness pervade the streets, the air and most of all the sky. Yes: the sky in Lisbon has a colour I have probably not seen anywhere- not in Europe anyway- but I don't recall seeing it in other places either. And although I come from a city of narrow streets and hills overlooking the sea,I have to admit the hills and streets of Lisbon are quite impressive but in order to see them properly you definitely have to take a tram. That's the best way to go around in the city: so old and fragile looking, sometimes you really wonder how they can get up on those steep hills and make those turns the way they do. Just take one and stay on untile the last stop: while you are shifted from one side and the other you will see drivers taking people to their doorsteps, find out about corners you would imagine and taste a little bit of local life.
Another thing that makes you appreciate the city is going for a meal in a taberna where you get a lot (seriously :a lot ) of food (make sure to ask for half portion if you're not that hungry ) and try all Portuguese typical dishes . Now if you don't like bacalhau that could be a problem because you will find it served in any possible way and by the end of the vacation you probably will not want to hear about it for months... A good place where to go is Restaurante Alto Minho or the really good Casa de India where you can find a lot of locals. If you want to try something more touristic you could go to the Casa de alentejo home of the carne de puerco a l'alentejo ( pork meat with clams- oh my). For a vegetarian option you could try Restaurant O sol. Now, as far as dessert are concerned Lisbonians are very proud of a famous creation which is in Belem one of the neighborhoods situated in the lower part of the city, next to the sea called o pasteis du Belem . You just have to take a tram and get to Belem and yo'ull be guided by the huge line of people standing outside the patisserie which carries the same name. You might end up lining up for a very long time but your turn comes up you'll be taken inside to sit at one of the many tables and taste this delicacy.It looks like a little muffin coated by sweet custard cream and soft sugar and you can try to guess the ingredients, wondering what is really made of, but guess all you want. The recipe ia apparently top secret. After your sweet break you can take a stroll in the area where there is a big cathedral and the Museu do design, a very nice museum of modern art worth seeing at least in its exteriors.
When you take the tram back to the center of the city Baixa that's where you can walk around the huge Praça do comercio then to Rossio and Praça da Figueira
Once you take the tram back up to the hills direction Alfama the oldest part of the city you will end up at the Castelo de Sao Jorge and I suggest you take a drink at Resto , the restaurant-bar of modern theatre Chapito where you can have a wonderful view of the city maybe after seeing a play or a dance performance . Speaking of that I managed to see one of most famous Pina Bausch Tanzteater in the most modern part of the city Parque das naçoes built fot the Expo 1998, "For the children of yesterday, today and tomorrow". If you are a dance enthusiast you know exactly what i am talking about. On the other hand if you want to enjoy something more typical then you might just enter of the many places where you can listen to fado which may turn out to be quite an expensive experience. In order to do that you will have to walk the streets of the Barrio Alto which is very nice during the day with its design boutiques, art galleries and bohemian bars but very crowded at night . You can just sit at one of them and get a nice glass of port wine or if you want to dare of aguardiente. The beauty of it all is getting lost in the less touristic places (during the day because at night as everywhere in the world you have to pay a little attention) , have a look in the little shops and breath the crispy air coming from the ocean . In my experience my staying in Lisbon was one of the loneliest: Portuguese people are extremely kind and helpful but when it comes to talk to strangers they are not very keen. Their dark green eyes sometimes communicate the melancholy I talked about. This is the feeling I brought back with me when I left : a touching intense melancholy which I Iearnt can also be pleasant. Muito muito obrigada Lisboa.

domenica 9 ottobre 2011

Milos : why of all the Greek islands?

Well there is a simple answer to that: I have been to Greece more times than I have been anywhere and I can surely say that Milos was the island that I'll probably remember the most. It's not Corfu where I used to go when I was a child, or Ios where i went to party hard in my twenties or big Rhodes I have some good memories of when I took a course there in Law of the sea, but it's an island which is different in my opinion and I guess it was all very influenced by the fact that when I went there I was in a couple and it was a very good moment of our relationship . Probably the best. Yes I would say that Milos is an island where you' better go if you're in a couple. It's not entirely for families nor a party island and it's not too small but small enough to sample the real Greek island taste. Besides if you love the sea bear in mind that there are more than 75 beaches which is quite something I would say. Also most of them are public and free , which is a rarity nowadays. In Italy in the last few years i can't recall a beach where you don't have to pay for the entrance and rent your umbrella and sunbed. I didn't really choose to there I just ended up there after we ( my ex boyfriend and I) literally escaped from another island Serifos which turned out to be a little too rough for my taste and where the wind was so strong it could reall drive you mad. Cyclades are known for the meltemis ad usually they are pleasant but in this case they were reaally too hard to handle. The harbour Adamas is probably the most touristic part of the island but it's very pleasant and when we got there we found immediately a place to stay since , as it is a custom in Greece, locals come out of the ferry and show tourists their accomodation which turns out to be time saving and very efficient. We found a room for € 30 per night,simple but tasty and with all the comforts :">. The owner and his daughter know exquisite hospitality and are totally helpful. but most of all they are always smiling which is one of the things I find very important. Breakfast was not included though so we had to go to get it in the bars at the harbour although since it costed 7 or 8 euros we preferred to buy some pastries and coffee at the bakery and sit on a bench in front of the sea. Now , you need to rent a motorcycle in Milos .There is also a good public bus transportation for the main beaches and the Plaka but you can't get to the other smaller beaches which are absolutely worth seeing. For a quite complete look check: "">. One of the most beautiful is Sarakiniko
but also Firiplaka
or Papafragas
Ande believe me there are so much more .. As far as sightseeing is concerned one can visit Plaka the main town on the island situated on a hill like all the plakas in the Greek islands with its narrow streets and restaurants (which can get a little too busy at night on a weekend) or Klima a very pictoreque traditional fishing village with coloured houses or Pollonia on the far north less touristic and very fascinating. Or one can just wander around and enjoy the landscape and go to remote parts of the island where one can be surrounded only by the sound of the wind and the bells of the goats.
In Pollonia there are quite a few restaurant on the beach but I would surely reccomend Kapetan Nikolas where the food was excellent and the young and fun male staff (and also good looking which is always appeciated at least by me ) very kind and efficient. The food is typical Greek with some variations like "pitarakia" little cheese pies. So what else to say? Greek islands are renowned for being one of the most favourite destinations of all times and almost all of them are worth visiting. We can all picture ourselves drinking ouzo at the sunset overlooking the beautiful Eagean sea surrounded by blue and white houses. So next time why not trying Milos?

mercoledì 5 ottobre 2011

Am I in heaven or in Botswana?

I arrived in Botswana from Livingstone, Zambia on a shared cab in the company of two ladies and a tank of some unidentified liquid.. Actually I just got to the ferry (more of a barge in fact) that in 20 minutes takes you from Zambia to Kasane on the Zambesi river. Fortunately enough, one of the ladies had a friend who picked her up from the harbour and after taking her to the airport drove me to find an accomodation in Kasane, which turned out to be a very difficult task. Everywhere was fully booked and the only place which wasn't was extremely expensive. Actually Kasane is not more than a street and from that street you can't really see the places. The only feasible one for me was Thebe River Safari Lodge where everything was supposedly fully booked as well but after seeing my despair scene (with tears I swear) I was given a room. The place is very nice and organizes boat trips and early morning safaris. It also has a restaurant and bar where in the evening I was surrounded by a group of drunk kids who just got off the safari truck parked in the back and danced on the bar. They were the same who during the river trip drank and shouted all the time. However, ever they were a nuisance I just could not be bothered since these are some of the things I saw:
In the morning I had been on a safari in Chobe park at 5 in the morning still organized by Thebe and it had been cold and with the same noise in the back of the people from the safari truck but great nevertheless. Travelling alone can obviously have pros and cons and one of the pros is that you meet a lot of people.(not referring to the ones on the safari trucks) That day when I was resting I saw four very adventurous looking guys on a jeep with a flat tyre and later I learnt that they were studying giraffes so they were real explorer guys not like the safari types you see travelling around Africa. Yes for some reason during my trips to Africa I have met thousands of Indiana Jones look alikes who basically don't do much more than sit in a jeep with a guide and look at the nature. But these ones were the real thing. Finally ! I learnt about the the Giraffe Conservation Fundation and here they were in all their splendour
Then I decided to go where apparently everybody was going : on the Okavango Delta. Usually people get there with their own vehicle or flying in little four or six seaters. But I couldn't do either : so I had to find alternative means of transportation. One of the cons of travelling alone is that you have to rely on public transport which sometimes means that you have to wake up at dawn and travel for hours. Actually I don't remember having travelled in such a civil and nice atmosphere anywhere in the world. Locals are the most peaceful and kind people on the planet and the journey was very pleasant. Actually another way of travelling around the country is hitchiking (by agreeing to pay whoever is driving a little something) and believe me if I say that you can do that there . I have never ever done it anywhere in the world and I still wouldn't but everybody seems to be doing it there and so I joined them and that's why I spent the other half of the journey in the back of a pick up
And that's how I got to Maun. The town itself is interesting but not too much. The first thing that stroke me was the quantity of wild donkeys walking everywhere but mot much more than that. I stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast a little out of the center owned by a dutch couple called Discovery very very nice place with beautiful bungalows and excellent breakfast. Now what's there to do in Maun if you're alone and without a car ? Well first of all take a Mokoro trip which means to go by a wooden type of canoe on the Okavango river with an oarman. I think I hardly ever experienced such quiet, beauty and peacefulness. The sound of the water under the oar is the only sound one hears during the whole trip. I was surrounded by pure nature and amazing landscape. The oarman and I then took a walking safari. He told me in the beginning : " Now if you see a lion the only thing you can do is climb a tree (!) but if you see elephant and he charges you basically you have no choice than run but you 'll be stomped upon anyway unless the elephant changes his mind..." Well what a nice perspective ... I don't know what I prefer... I told him that I really didn't wish to make such an encounter especially since I was just planning to relax on the river and didn't know about this out of programme decision. However I just saw a lot of zebras and wilderbeests. Fortunately I would add.
Another great thing you can do is take a scenic flight on the Okavango delta. Actually mine didn't start off too well : I had this very anxious american woman next to me who kept saying that she hoped we weren't going to die .. Me too but of course when I got on the six seater plane next to the Sarkozy-lookalike French pilot I wasn't too calm either. The fear just dissolved when we took off and for the whole hour I just couldn' t get enough of the things I saw. It was sunset the perfect time to see such a beautiful thing. The pictures don't represent truly the beauty of it all but give you a rough idea.
After Maun where I really had a great time I booked a three days trip thorugh an agency to Ghanzi and more specifically Planet Baobab Camp a very funky place situated on the outskirts of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, famous for its baobabs of course I booked a trip called Meerkaats mania which included a visit to meerkaats of course, and a game drive in the park but was all about driving a quad in the pans(white salt desert) and spending the night around a campfire and sleeping open air under the sky in a luxury sleeping bag ( or more a bed with a matress, a pillow and all). What can I say about that? Look at the pictures and judge for yourself.
I would strongly reccomend to take this trip and also to stay in Planet Baobab. It's quite an experience ( a good one). Sadly enough after this three days in wonderland I had to head back to South Africa where I had my return flight and ended in Francistown (not worthy) and then to Gaborone (even less) to fly out of there. Since I had some spare time I decided to do something for my messy hair and went to a local hairdressers. While they were messing my hair up even more ( I looked like I had put my head into the mouth of a cow...) I was thinking about my trip and already missing the breathtaking nature, the incredible kindness of all the people who crossed my path and this wonderful light feeling of peace and beauty which stayed with me even months after I got back home. We know that if you're good in your life you'll end up in heaven and I have the feeling that it looks exactly like Botswana. .