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martedì 22 luglio 2014

Quel ramo del lago di Como (Bellagio for you)

"Quel ramo del lago di Como, che volge a mezzogiorno, tra due catene non interrotte di monti, tutto a seni e a golfi, a seconda dello sporgere e del rientrare di quelli, vien, quasi a un tratto, a ristringersi, e a prender corso e figura di fiume, tra un promontorio a destra, e un’ampia costiera dall’altra parte... this is the opening of one of the great classics of Italian literature "I Promessi Sposi" (The betrothed) by Alessandro Manzoni and it's the description of what in late years has become a trendy and exclusive destination in the North of Italy. Probably all of you out there are aware of the fact that a considerable part of this success is due to the fact that Hollywood star George Clooney bought a house in this area and came to live here for some time. Since then this place has become of the most visited areas in Italy, where Hollywood actors and jet set personalities come to spend some vacation or even to get married (last Emily Blunt and John Krasinski). I went there many times during the years but it had been a long time since I last went so I decided to go again this year to the most renowned and probably lovely place on the lake i.e. Bellagio. Most of you are aware that the beauty of this place has attracted many people and also inspired one of the newest (it's been there for a few years actually) hotels in Las Vegas called in fact Bellagio. It's a small town on the banks of the lake like many others but it has a definite fascination and a very romatic atmosphere that makes it almost unique. I mostly prefer the seaside and am not a fan of lakes, however I find lake Como a very romantic spot and I would definitely suggest it for a trip or a nice weekend. Mind you the best time when to go is spring or fall. Winter can be a little depressing although with its own fascination. Summer can become hell especially in the weekends. I went in early March and the weather was nice enough to make it really enjoyable. Obviously being a very refined destination there are many beautiful hotels and secluded places but also smaller pretty ones in the middle of the town which are also quite affordable. I stayed in Hotel Bellagio, very pretty with rooms tastefully decorated and a very nice view on the lake. As far as restaurants are concerned I went to a trattoria a little hidden on one of the many steps which connect the lakeside to the upper part of the town of which unfortunately I don't remember the name. I always choose trattorias because I prefer homelike food and egenuine ingredients although sometimes many high levels restaurants in Italy also call themselves trattoria. However in this particular one the food was good but not exceptional, although the atmosphere was very home like and there were quite a few locals dining there. The specialties in that area are mostly lake fish, but also cheeses and various types of meats. Not much luck for vegetarians who can always get by somehow though (if I managed to survive in Namibia I can get by everywhere in the world). What else? Not too much really. These places are made for walking around , sit with your partner by the lake and enjoy the sunset, and do some more of that romantic stuff. If you want to change you can also take a little ferry with or without your car and go to Varenna on the other side which is also very pretty although not as nice as Bellagio. Well then I advised you: when you are feeling romantic and you're in this part of the world do enjoy a day or two in Lake Como. You won't regret it, as also confirmed Alessandro Manzoni at the end of its masterpiece when Renzo and Lucia the engaged to be married couple, finally after years of troubles and difficulties get married in their little village on the side of the lake and things start to get better for them. Work gets better, children come and they live happily everafter although learning that troubles come no matter what and only faith in God makes them better and renders them useful in order to learn to have a better life. And so I also will conclude: "Questa conclusione, benché trovata da povera gente, c'è parsa così giusta, che abbiam pensato di metterla qui, come il sugo di tutta la storia. La quale, se non v'è dispiaciuta affatto, vogliatene bene a chi l'ha scritta, e anche un pochino a chi l'ha raccomodata. Ma se in vece fossimo riusciti ad annoiarvi, credete che non s'è fatto apposta.". Basically if you enjoyed the story, try to like a little who's written it and also who adapted it. If instead you got bored because of it, please know that it was not at all the intention. Ciao for now folks!

martedì 20 maggio 2014

Welcome to paradise (Boracay)

Not bad huh? I ended up in this island just after Xmas for eight days ( which is a little short considering the journey but definitely better than nothing). I had visited many places in South East Asia but I had never been to the Philippines although it has always been a place where I wanted to go to. It's not easy to reach the island: first you have to get to Manila, then take an internal flight changing terminal (which is in another area of the airport and takes about 20 minutes by taxi to reach), then depending on where you land, take some means of transportation to the island. I landed in Caticlan which is very near. You still need to take a van to the jetty, a boat to Boracay and another van to destination. You can do that by getting a ticket outside of the airport with Southwest, a very well organized company which does everything for you, tickets, luggage etc. Believe me when you are jetlageed and had only three hours of sleep like I did, it helps a lot. When you get to Boracay the main attraction is White beach, a four km white sand beach where traffic is not allowed and where most of the hotels , guesthouses and restaurants are. The beach is divided in three stations. I was in the middle at Station 2 which is very nice. Station 1 is even nicer even if a little calmer and station 3 I thought was the worst. Having said that do not imagine the island as a secluded paradise because it isn't... construction is everywhere, it is unfortunately very touristic and that spoils a bit the landscape. Plus I was there for the New Year's Eve vacations and I can tell you there were millions of people. See for yourself. Usually Xmas is a good season. Should be dry and not so hot. Unfortunately it rained or better poured for a couple of days including New Year's Eve which leads to the question: What do you do on an island like this when it's raining? Well it depends who you're with and what type of journey it is but you can have a massage (fantastic) for as little as €5 or eat (and there are a lot of places where to do that), or go shopping or if you like it you can swim in the rain. That's what a lot of people did on New Year's eve when it was literally pouring. When there is good weather apart from laying down in the sun and swimming most people go to Boracay to do kite surf. This sport never attracted me so until the last three days I never crossed the main street situated at the back of the beach to reach the other beach Bolabog beach to see what was happening there. Well, I could say it's kite surf paradise where there are schools, competitions and kite surf fanatics from all over the world. I was passing by a school called Habagat German owned and with a lot of teachers. I got convinced to try in the end and I took two and a half classes (I missed the last half due to unfortunate circumstances). Well, I kind of learnt to fly a kite and that was it. I stayed in the water up to my waist with my arms up holding a heavy kite, staring in the sun for what I thought was an endless time, with a teacher next to me holding my waistband and giving me directions. By the way he was very good looking as the majority of windsurf, diving, kitesurf etc. teachers are... In the end I missed the part where I would have gone up on the board.. Damn it. Well I'll try again some other time I guess. As far as eating is concerned there are certainly a lot of places in White beach most of all not very good and very touristic, but the best place is certainly D'Talipapa the fish market where you buy your own fish in one of the many stalls (incredibly cheap let me tell you) and go to one of the many little restaurants around the market to have it cooked. I went there with some new friends I met on the island and it was a fantastic experience plus some of the best seafood I had ever eaten.Strongly reccomended. AS I said I didn't stay enough in the island to truly enjoy it and I would love to go back to stay a little longer and maybe look at the other islands which I was told are very beautiful too. It was really one of those things I really regreted. Especially because I came back since I had pressure from clients from work. A piece of advice? Never and I repeat NEVER listen to clients when you are going on holidays or better if you are already there because nothing is life or death matter unless you're a doctor or someone involving in saving human lives. For the rest especially if you're freelance don't listen to clients. The things we had to do so urgently are still pending... And so I missed another couple of days in Boracay which really would have made the difference. I'll go back, of this I'm sure and this time with no internet connection nor phone. I wonder if this time I'll be able to ride a board and fly a kite. I'll just have to wait and find out..

domenica 6 aprile 2014

Vedi Napoli e poi muori . There is no city like mine 2

Here it is, the best panorama in the world: the one from the house where I was born and raised and from which I could see all the gulf from one end to the other and the Vesuvio, the islands, Sorrento. I have always had the city at my feet. When I go there I love to sit on the balcony and stay in the sun looking at the sea for a long time and reminding of when I was a little girl and was running all around the balcony with my sister and brother. The best thing to do in Naples is to walk around. Yes to walk. It is a big city but most of the places are reachable by foot and the walks are fantastic. Like that you can avoid the infamous traffic and the mess of public transportation except for the old Funicolari (i.e. Funicular railways: there are four of them in town and work very well)and the metro system which is now very good. I usually take them since I am from the area situated up high on the hill called Vomero so I need to if I'm in hurry but if I am not I can just walk all the way down by the stairs which cut the city in half and go from above to the lower part of the city. If you take the funicolare and the metro usually you would get off in the chi chi area of Via dei Mille or in the historic center (Via Toledo or Piazza Dante) . Both areas are very nice and allow you to walk around historical places and monuments and then stretch to the sea. Now what's there to see in Naples ? Or better what's not there to see? Where do I start? Let's try a list: Castles: We have three. Castel Sant'Elmo up above where you can see all of the city. There is also a very nice museum of Neapolitan art and presepi (creches).Castel Dell'ovo by the sea, a very old castle from the Middle Age, which has become the symbol of the city throughout the centuries and gets its name from the legend that there was an egg hidden in its foundations on which all the luck or disgrace of the castle would depend on. Maschio Angioino the one portraited in the first picture built by the Angioins, our French conquerors at the time. Did you know we had many dominations? We had the Greeks , the Romans, the Normans, the Svevis, the FRench, The Spanish, again the French, again the Spanish and finally no one. Well we inherited many things from our invaders but we remain developed a truly genuine Neapolitan character and mind which are somehow unique. Presumptious? Maybe but meet some Nepolitans and then you will tell me... Let's go on with our list: Museums: Museo di San Martino (see above at Castel Sant'Elmo), Museo Nazionale where you can find ancient art from the greek period up until Reinassance. Museo Madre. Modern art museum situated in the heart of the historic center. Churches: more than a hundred and most of them in the historic center. My favourites: Chiesa del Gesù , Basilica e Monastero di Santa Chiara, Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore, Cappella di Sansevero. This last one is famous because of the famous sculpture of the Veiled Christ which is something unique. See for yourself. Monuments: Palazzo reale, Teatro San Carlo, Galleria Umberto I, Piazza del Plebiscito (this ones are all at a walking distance from each other). One of the main walks you can take in the city is the one in the historic center starting from Piazza Dante walking down the decumani (ancient roman streets ) crossing the area, all the way down to the Duomo and Castel Capuano where the Court of Justice used to be. Doing that you want to stop at San Gregorio Armeno to look at all the old shops selling little statues for creches, a very old tradition we have for Xmas. The creches can be huge and full of characters and there are competitions every year for the best Neapolitan creche. Once you get to Castel Capuano you want to stop for the probably the best pizza you will ever have at Michele , a very old pizzeria where only Margherita and Marinara are sold (for Neapolitans only those two are the real pizzas , the rest doesn't count)with a drink on marble old tables for as little as € 5,00. Go there early: there is always a line and you have to take a number. Have you seen "Eat,pray, love?" Well Julia Roberts and her friend were eating pizza at Michele. If you want also an excellent pizza in the are go to Brandi which is also delicious and has also pizza fritta (fried pizza) a little heavier but soooo tasty... As far as food is concerned I wrote about it in my last post and I can say there are so many places where you can eat well in Naples. Depends on what you're looking for. Mattozzi for example is where you can taste many specialties of Neapolitan Cuisine (gattò di patate, sartù di riso etc.. ), and if you want excellent but a little more pricey food you should go to Rosiello on the beautiful hill of Posillipo. Also there are a lot of places by the sea. One of them which I really like is called Stella. It's fairly new: I mean it wasn't there when I was a little girl like the others but it's in the area by the sea closed to traffic. These are the pictures I took when I went to eat there. Another very interesting walk is the one in Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish neighbourhoods) which are the heart of the city. There you can walk in the narrow streets,(vicoli) hear the voice of the vendors, see the clothes hanging from the balconies, and look at this very old quarters where the spirit of Naples truly lives. I never realize how much I love this city until I talk about it although for many other reasons I don't like it, but it's my hometown and I feel Neapolitan from the tip of my hair to the bottom of my feet. I am sure I will have forgotten many other things I can say about it and maybe I will write again about la mia bella Napoli , where my heart belongs and will always stay. Ciao for now.

martedì 11 marzo 2014

Vedi Napoli e poi muori (there is no city like mine). First part

I dare anybody in the whole world to find a city like this. There is no other. It is simply unique. I am not saying it because it's the place where I was born and raised but because it's true and anybody who's been there can say it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Judge for yourself: I got this video from Youtube which has one of my favourite Neapolitan songs of all times and images of my beautiful hometown. I have to confess I don't go there as often anymore. I used to : for years I would go back every one or two months to see my friends and some of my relatives. Having moved with my whole family to Milan almost 24 years ago I do feel like I belong there and I truly do but at the same time all these years away from it make me an expat, so that when I go back I feel like I have never moved away and a tourist at the same time. It's a very weird feeling, because I have lived many years out of Naples but I do feel and I am truly Neapolitan. I never lost my accent for one thing and I speak the slang all the time especially when I'm angry. I do have to confess that I have always had a love-hate relationship with the city. One of the reasons why my family decided to move is the fact that nothing ever changes in the good but mostly in the bad. It's always been a city ruled by inadequate and mostly corrupted administrations, where lack of work has always been a big problem since I can remember and most of all it's located in a territory where we sadly know organized criminality reigns. Moreover it's a place where the mentality of the people remains the same even after centuries and unfortunately doesn't open to the rest of the world. I know some of my fellow citizens will not agree with me but most of those who have moved away will totally see what I am saying. It's a very closed society and very difficult to deal with. Nevertheless the city has always coped with numerous problems with the so called " arte di arrangiarsi" which could be translated as art of getting by and which the Neapolitans have used to go around obstacles for centuries for survival purposes. The problem is that this habit of going around things to find a way to get by brought people not to face problems and solve them. This is why after many years the city has still the same problems. I am saying that because people only see the obvious beauties of the city and of the people but as tourists do not get how difficult it is to live in a city like this one. Even I when I go back for the first few days am enthusiastic and happy, but after a while I have this urge to run away. I am not the only one believe me. This is for living there but as a visitor anybody (I can bet what you want) will have a wonderful time. The city is simply fantastic, people are also unique and have a great sense of humor and are known to be a step ahead. Here are some examples: Well, tecnically Massimo Troisi and Sophia Loren are not from Naples but from little towns close by even if they have always been considered true Neapolitans. We are in fact, very proud of our origins and of our Neapolitan culture like no one else at least in Europe. Now let's talk about a couple of advice when visiting: Naples is not dangerous as sometimes people say. Do not believe in this terroristic propaganda and yes do take care of your stuff when you're walking around. That's just common sense: you would do the same in Paris, New York, London or Milan. I got pickpocketed in all four cities and curiously enough never in Naples. I insist: don't listen when people say that because they got robbed of their Rolex or Prada handbag, Naples is a dangerous city. I guess in every city where you flash that kind of stuff in certain neighborhoods or close to the railway station you can easily become an easy target. Just use your common sense and you'll be fine. Be prepared to spend some time in traffic when touring. There is a lot of traffic in Naples but that's just the way it is, so there is in Bangkok, Bejing, New York, or Rio. Neapolitan drivers are described to be crazy but have you ever been in a cab in one of the four places I mentioned? Crazy is all over the world my friends. Another main thing: when you go to Naples you should probably fast for a week or two before leaving since you're gonna eat so much you won't believe it.Mind you, most of the things are healthier than most foods we eat every day, but of course pizza, sfogliatelle, taralli al pepe, paste cresciute, crocchè, biscotti all'amarena, sciù al ciocclolato and many other kinds of food can be quite heavy if you eat them everyday and I guarantee you will want to. See what I mean? Ok now I'm officially hungry. Another thing you should do if visiting Naples if you're a man and have some (but not too much) cash is to have a tailored suit or a jacket since in Naples there is one of the most ancient traditions of men tailors of all times. To see what what I'm talking about check the trailer of my brother's movie called O'Mast. Since "La Grande Bellezza" won the Oscar as best foreign movie if you watched it you might have noticed the exquisite clothes worn by Toni Servillo the actor playing the role of Jep Gambardella, the main character. Well they are made by one od the most famous tailors in Naples, Mr. Cesare Attolini who was thanked at the ceremony together with all the others by director Paolo Sorrentino. And let's get to places to visit .... in the second part

lunedì 3 marzo 2014

Manila in a day

Well let's start by saying that I am probably not the best guide to this city since I was there for 24 hours, last January and did not see too much of it but I was also told that there isn't in fact too much too see in Manila. Wrong ? Right? Who knows, I only know I was coming back from Boracay and exhausted since I had a true sleepless night, one of those when you can't sleep a wink. Know what I'm talking about? My flight had been delayed incredibly like the majority of all flights from the island, but I was told that it is very common. I took a very nice hotel in Makati, one of the nicest areas of the city, suggested by a very nice girl I met in Boracay and pampered myself a little. Makati is made of malls and tall buildings, very modern yet very nice I thought. While I was wondering around like a zombie I happened to stumble across this lovely place called Ginza Bairin Tonkatsu. Now who likes Japanese cuisine knows what tonkatsu is: a yummy cutlet like specialty usually made of pork. I tried the vegetarian tonkatsu made of tofu and served with organic rice and cabbage with potato salad. It was simply de-li-cious. The place is very nice and there is a free refill of cabbage and rice any time you want it. Places like this are one of those Asian things I miss the most when I go back home. I then was so tired and basically collapsed in my hotel room which was nearly frozen for the air conditioning (one of those things about Asia I don't miss when I go back to Europe). The next day my friend suggested that I should go to the old parte of the city called Intramuros where there are traces of the old Spanish domination. To be honest is not so interesting to us Europeans, for obvious reasons and I mostly enjoyed the ride in the tricyle I took in the narrow streets more than the monuments themselves. Judge for yourselves. To get there from Makati and back takes almost two hours because of the traffic, which is dreadful. The taxi drivers have all sorts of objects next to the steering wheel mostly religious simbols, but also dogs with their heads moving at every movement of the car, flowers , hearts, and any other kind of stuff which makes the taxi look like a Xmas tree.I found it very funny and cute at the same time. An alternative to taxi is jeepneys widly used by the locals but advised against for tourists. If you don't know where you're going exacly do not take a jeepney, -I was told- or you'll get lost in Manila and you don't want that to happen. Manila turned out not to be one of the cities I like better in Asia but I had a really good time there. I met my friend I had known in Boracay and she took me in these giant malls for lunch and to buy things to take back home. I love Asian Malls: I remembee the ones in Singapore and Bangkok. You can easily spend the whole day there and find whatever you want even if you're not looking for it in that moment. My favourite was Greenbelt which has 5 or 6 buildings and even a park. You can easily walk from one mall to the other: they are all connected to each other, and find yourself immersed in that shopping heaven. After many hours of walking and shopping (I even managed to have a fast mani-pedi the results of which were fantastic) some shops were about to close and multitudes of people started piling out of the malls and onto the streets to go home. The night was falling and I also had to make my way to the airport. I was sorry I did not stay more because I spent a really nice day with my new friend I hope to see again one day always in Manila or in another heavenly island like Boracay. But that's another story which I will tell in one of my next posts. I left with the melancholy I always get when I leave Asia. My good friend from Turin would probably say I am Asia addicted like her and maybe she's right. I am happy I managed to go to the Philippines and next time I go ( because I really want to go back ) it will be again through Manila. Ba-bay!

venerdì 24 gennaio 2014

Unconventional Iberia

I have been to Madrid a couple of times and always liked it although I prefer (or at least I think I do : now Madrid natives are going to hate me deeply) Barcelona. Having said that I haven't been to Barcelona in over ten years so I guess I can't be really objective. I was in Madrid recently and liked it as usual although this time it was different. I was visiting and my guide made me discover places unknown and very pleasant. Mind you this is not going to be a post about Prado, Reina Sofia or all that . Not at all. Just a few little discoveries I made in this beautiful city. When I think of Madrid the first word that comes to my mind is "maestosa". In English it would be translated as majestic but in Italian I think it gives a better idea. I was very lucky with the weather notwithstanding the fact that it was already winter: clear blue skies, warm sun and beautiful light. I had my stroll in the center, where apart from the beautiful sites and monuments I saw the signs of the crisis we are also experiencing big time here in Italy since a couple of years ago. The difference is that at least they had the Indignados whereas in this country nobody apparently gets angry enough to do something consistent about it. Everybody says it will pass by itself probably this year but is it really true? I guess we will find out soon. Apart from that I enjoyed very much walking in Plaza Mayor seeing the policemen with their horses, one of which was the object of attention of a beige labrador who wanted to make friends with him, and around the little calles. My friend took me for dinner at La cocina de San Anton areally nice restaurant situated in a market open during the day and partly at night. I am sure that in the summer with the open terrace it will be even more pleasant but it was pleasant enough during winter. The day after we walked for miles over the Rio Manzanares taking advantage of the beautiful weather and came across a the beautiful Arganzuela bridge, which wasn't there or at least I don't think it was last time I was in Madrid which was about ten years ago when I went for a hen night or Espedita de soltera as they say in Spanish for a a friend of mine who although Italian has lived in Spain and loves it. I have a lot of memories from that trip especially of the late nights and the splurging. The time before that instead I had been there for New Year's Eve and as apparently all the tourists do my friends and I went to Plaza del Sol and waited for midnight with a bottle of Cava and 12 grapes for the 12 beats of the clock. The grapes you have to eat at every beat which makes it impossibile to swallow it altogether. So one of my friends and I kneeled on the floor since all the corks from thousands of bottles were being popped and managed to eat the 12 grapes although we looked like squirrels with a mouth full of hazelnuts. At the end of the walk my friend took me to a very interesting place which was formely a slaughterhouse called Matadero, a huge space which has recently become a recreative center with a bar and a theatre and places for exhibitions. As disturbing as the name could sound since it makes come to mind the activities carried out in that place it is absolutely a place to go to. I loved it and if in Madrid I will surely go again. In the evening my friend took me to an excellent restaurant El Pescador, lovely place and great food. The next day, always thanks to my friend, I managed to finally see Toledo a town an hour away from Madrid which I have never managed to see the other times I have been there. Well that's also a place to which the word maestoso could easily apply. But most of all what was really nice about it was the mixture between churches and synagogues which find its reasons in the religious tolerance the town had centuries ago. It was a really lovely feeling walking in its narrow streets and admiring the quiet corners of this beautiful place. Churches, synagogues, convents, little resturants and a breathtaking view. The one in the picture was taken from a Parador, of the chain Paradores of Spain (hotels) just outside the town. For reference please check out Wikipedia page about Toledo. Maestoso right? Well what else can I say? That weekend has been important for me for various reasons and I guess it made me discover other parts of this majestic city and also beautiful Toledo. Next time Her majesty I will render more hommage to your regal self . For now I will only get this small post of admiration which I hope is enough for the time being. Hasta pronto!