Adventures in Madrid

Visiting Spain was in my bucket list for years, so the idea to travel to Madrid came naturally. Even if it was my first time ever in Spain, I always felt I knew the country. After all, we share similar cultural habits, like food and siestas, but we also appreciate a good glass of wine and a sunny terrace! So, I wanted to experience firsthand what Madrid had to offer.

The trip didn’t start so promising for me; I got my period while traveling to Madrid, which in a way brought some distance between the city and my general perception (hormones we oh-so-hate). The weather welcomed us with a beautiful sunshine and a clear blue sky, which was a great start, but also a chance to forget those horrible days of the month.

After meeting my best friends at the airport, we headed to our apartment. It was the moment we stepped out the metro, that my inner Bilbo Baggins started screaming: “I’m going on an adventure!”.

 

Dinner, lunch and breakfast

In Madrid, as in the rest of Spain, what you need to try is the tapas. Tapas are types of savory dishes that are served in bars; they are usually accompanied by drinks and are the core of the touristic Spanish cuisine. Tapas can be small portions (tapas) of food or bigger ones (raciones). They can be for free or you need to pay for them. Tapas are known all around the world, however, the quality in which we normally find them is far inferior to the real thing – trust me. In Madrid, the tradition is that you are offered a small tapa for free with every drink you order, typically, a small bowl of olives. So, you will eat a delicious tapa either way!

Tapas are not just about the food, it’s also about the way you eat them. It is the whole eating culture that comes with them. You go out with your friends, you find a tapas bar, you sit at the bar and you start eating. You typically order a drink and a couple of tapas plates, and then you order another drink and a couple of more plates. Exactly like eating meze in Greece. I get it now. And you never sit at the same bar all night; you go bar-hopping, visiting several tapas places in one evening.

Seeing for the first time a tapas menu can be challenging, especially if you have no idea what to order – like me. Asking for help and recommendations from the waiter is always a nice solution. Some of the famous tapas are the classic tortilla de patatas, the croquetas and the patatas bravas, but you can also choose from a variety of salad, pasta, fish and meat dishes! There is literally food for all tastes.

During our stay we visited several tapas places; the ones that stood out were the Ojala close to the Tribunal metro station area and the Juana La Loca in the La Latina area. Ojala attracts many young people, mostly due to its hipster interior design. They offer many small tapas, mostly Mexican based dishes. Juana La Loca is modern but it’s also a more typical tapas bar. It attracts people of all ages and the service is quite good. We tried a selection of cold and warm tapas with some Rioja red wine on the side. It was delicious!

A must-go place is certainly the famous open market of Mercado de San Miguel. There are many open markets you can visit in Madrid, but this one is close to the city center and it has a very nice atmosphere and of course, great food options! It has dozens of counters with all types of tapas and drinks. I am telling you, it is a paradise. In the middle of the market there is room where you can sit with your friends while you enjoy the amazing food and drinks! This was for sure my favorite place!

If you feel like visiting a different restaurant, go to the Sobrino de Botin. It is the oldest restaurant in da world (also part of the Guinness World Records), and it is also wordwide famous. You need to book beforehand though, because it is always very busy. I would call their food traditional comfort food and certainly not gourmet. It is typical Spanish food based on very old recipes. It is quite expensive (overpriced I would say), compared with the rest of the restaurants in the area, but its atmosphere is certainly unique. One thing is certain, you will meet people from all around the world there and you will eat a lot! {Check the pictures of their menu in the gallery below to get a glimpse of its food and prices}

While you are in Madrid, don’t forget to try the famous churros with chocolate. We visited the famous Chocolatería San Ginés in central Madrid (in a passageway close to San Ginés church, west of the Puerta del Sol). This chocolatery serves the famous chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894. They are basically churros served with enough hot chocolate to keep you up all night. They say it’s prefect after dinner, I say it’s perfect ALL-DAY LONG.

La Mallorquina cafe is the best place to grab a quick snack and coffee. It is part of a chain that you can find throughout Spain and they have loads of pastry, savory and sweet snacks to choose from. Pick your coffee, choose your treat and enjoy a quick bite before you start the day. My only problem was the communication, since almost none of the café’s workers understood English. However, they were very kind and helpful with everything we wanted.

Another good breakfast restaurant is the Federal Café, a very modern place (close to the center) which tends to get very busy. We had to wait 20 minutes to get a table, but it was worth it. Their breakfast and lunch options were endless, and their pastry was super delicious. I had a salmon toast with a poached egg and salad and later an amazing chocolate cheesecake (which I unfortunately had to share).

Drinks & Nightlife

Now let’s talk about where to drink in Madrid. That was perhaps the most challenging part for us since we discovered many bars that were not really our taste. But don’t get discouraged! There are countless bars for all tastes to enjoy your drinks. For great cocktails visit the Lamucca de Prado, close to the National del Prado Museum. Other great options for cocktails are the Del Diego Cocktail Bar and the Salmon Guru. If you are not impressed, then check the roof of El Corte Inglés that has an amazing view or go to La Negra Tomasa. To be honest, in every restaurant or bar I visited, they had amazing Rioja (my favorite) red wine. So, even if you crave only a glass of wine, you will find many bars that you can just chill and chat with your friends.

Places to visit/Museums/Art

When it comes to museums and culture, you certainly need to visit the Prado Museum. It has a huge collection of European art, with loads of Goya paintings. On the ground floor you will find Spanish, German, Flemish and Italian paintings from the 15th and 16th century, while on the first floor you will find European artwork from the 17th and 18th century. You must see the fantastically creepy Garden of Earthly Delights by the Dutch painter Jeronimus Bosch, the Raphaels and Titians, but also don’t miss out the Black Paintings from Goya, they are amazing. The Prado is enormous, which means you will have to keep in mind that you will spend at least 2 hours there. There is a lot of art and it is always busy, so plan ahead and enjoy this wonderful museum.

Another must-see museum is the Reina Sofia. Its collection is certainly more modern; it has four full floors filled with art! On the ground and first floor you will find collections on postmodernity with themes such as decolonization, the uprisings of ’68, feminist movements, the economic crisis, the expansion of popular culture and the emergence of other peripheral modernisms, but you can also find several temporary exhibitions. The second floor is dedicated to modernity, with Dali’s surrealist work and Picasso’s famous Guernica, while on the fourth floor you will find post-war works that focus on the antagonism between United States and the Soviet Union. The third floor is always reserved for bigger temporary exhibitions, such as the one I visited, William Kentridge’s multi-layered work, which I had seen before in Amsterdam. The museum currently has an exhibition dedicated to Fernando Pessoa, my favorite Portuguese poet and writer, so if you get the chance, please visit it and I will be eternally jealous!

For a better way to explore the city, you should definitely follow one of the many free tours in Madrid. How it works is very simple: you book online the date you want to join and then you meet up with the group at a central point. After the tour, you are free to give the guides any amount of money you think their work deserved. From my experience, I have to say that their work and insight was great. From those tours you get a general historical and architectural overview of the city, plus you learn the central spots. If you follow or not those free tours, don’t forget to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Retiro park; the latter we didn’t visit because the rainy weather didn’t allow us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go shopping in the city, so I don’t have any shopping advice for you! We were busy walking, visiting museums and eating. On out last day the weather was very rainy which didn’t allow us to walk and explore the shopping area. I spotted many nice stores though, that I will certainly revisit in the future!

Practical tips

For accommodation, you can find online small apartments close to the city center, so you don’t have to walk much from one place to the other. We chose an excellent location, close to Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid, so that we could have everything at close range. The truth is you will need to use the metro either way, but staying in a central place is always handy.

So, for using the inner-city metro, you need to buy a red card that you then recharge. That was challenging for us, since the English language mode of the ticket machines didn’t actually work. Thankfully my friend knew some Spanish and we could print our card and tickets.

It might get a bit confusing getting the metro and trying to figure out the stops and the lines you need, however, checking the boards they have there and asking the employees of the metro will make your travel easier. Do not use Google maps in any case, because it only confused us (sorry Google).

Useful tip: to reach the airport you will have to use the C1 blue line. If you live in the center, taking the metro towards the Chamartin stop is the easiest option; from there, you wait for the line that takes you to the airport (I took the T4 for European flights).

For more information visit their website.

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Click on the links to check the places online.

This post is not a promotion for any of the businesses mentioned above.

(Photos: Canon EOS 1000D, edited via Lightroom with VscoCam & Samsung A5 2016.)

 

Bourtange Fortress, Groningen, NL 2017

Bourtange is a historical village located in the Southeast of the Groningen province. It is surrounded by a star-shaped fort built in 1593 in order to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen during the Dutch Revolt. As it is very close to the German border, its position was crucial to the area. After the final battle in 1672, the fort continued to serve as a defense point on the German border until it became a village in 1851. Now it functions as a historical museum.

I had the pleasure to stay for one night in the village, at a fortress lodging. I even slept on a bedstee, a type of covered bed that soldiers used to sleep on. At the village you can find a souvenir shop for gifts, an old type candy store, a watchmaker shop, the candle shop “Victoria” and enjoy a warm wine and a nice meal at the village’s restaurants. The village has many museums you can visit (Terra Mora, Museum “The Baracquen”, Captain’s House, The Synagogue), and various other places of interest that demonstrate the history of the place. Some of them are the various Officers’ Houses (Major’s House, Captain’s House, Commander’s House, Schoolmaster’s House, Convoy Master’s House) the Priest’s House, the soldiers’ barracks, the cannons, the two gates, the “secreten” (toilets of the old days), the bastions, bridges, ditches, ramparts, the guardhouses, the picturesque Market Square, the church, the Peat Barn, the horse mill, the standard mill, the Synagogue, the powder houses, the former forge and many others! Check out the photo gallery below to see some of those places!

The village even organizes reenactments of the Bourtange battle and other types of markets and events throughout the year. Check here for more information. If you are lucky, you can spot the soldiers marching at the main square of the village. Bourtange is a typical example of the Dutch saying “klein maar fijn”, which translates into “small, but beautiful”, since it is all about quality over quantity.

Bourtange Fortress in Southeast Groningen. November 2017. The Netherlands. Minolta dynax 7000i, Kodak Gold, ISO 200, 35mm film.

Martin Scorsese – The Exhibition 25/5-3/9

He is one of the most famous and most loved American filmmakers of his generation. His movies have inspired many and his distinctive personal style has shaped attitudes and modes throughout the years.

If you don’t know it already, the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam has been hosting Scorsese’s exhibition since last May. With an immense personal collection (Scorsese’s and De Niro’s) of objects (over 400), memorabilia, awards, documents, photographs, and a compilation of film fragments, this exhibition guides you through the beginning of Scorsese’s inspirations and his life work with care and great self-awareness.

The exhibition is wisely divided according to the general themes of Scorsese’s films and inspirations. The main ones are family, heroes, brothers, relationships between men and women and are the most intense and descriptive ones throughout the exhibition. They include many key film fragments that are projected on large screens, but also photographs, small video fragments, objects and storyboards that show how and why Scorsese chose those themes in his work. Evidently, this part is very interesting and powerful, representing consistently the key inspirations and film subjects Scorsese utilized the most.

After those sections, the least important ones follow, such as editing, camerawork, cinephile and music. The section of New York is perhaps the one that almost every guest feels the need to explore a little bit further. There are clips, many film objects exhibited and even a giant wall poster with a yellow neon Mean Streets sign and Travis Bickle’s wonderings in Times Square. Here, you can take the well-deserved selfie.

The exhibition covers successfully the whole spectrum of Scorsese’s filmic career and focuses on his early and most acclaimed work. Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and Raging Bull are perhaps the most present films in this exhibition that reappear in many sections and the ones that made Scorsese famous for his glorified view on violence. The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator are also some of the films you will see a lot, however, not much is shown from Gangs of New York or Hugo. Nevertheless, the small screens hanging in every corner include clips from almost all his films. You also get the chance to witness his early student work and his documentaries about New York and his Italian-American family that are not so famous. While you enjoy his vast and diverse filmic work, much of his personal stimuli and inspirations prove vital for the full experience of this exhibition. You will discover the incidents and events that shaped young Martin and the ways he conceived his filmic ideas.

His style and touch are present everywhere in the exhibition, which makes everything more personal and somehow more accessible. For this reason, in many parts of this exhibition you hear Scorsese’s own voice narrating a story accompanied by an old movie fragment that functioned as an inspiration. Those clips are short and create the strange feeling that he is there with you, guiding you through what you see. The exhibition knows what it’s offering and how to present it and the director’s guidance creates intimacy, while you stroll around watching, hearing, touching and reading everything he ever made or loved.

Scorsese recognizes his own importance and has created an inspiring and honest exhibition for anyone, either a young filmmaker, a cinephile, or a fan. The exhibition is a personal journey on the director’s work and inspiration that helps you realize his importance, contribution and influence on cinema. The exhibition succeeds that by showing everything in a truthful and simple manner.

While walking through the exhibition – which takes approximately 2 hours – you feel this raw and rough sensation overcoming you, which is soon replaced by a familiar sense that you have been inside Scorsese’s brain. Not because you visually witness his work and life in front of you, but because he allows you to.  And that is a luxury you can’t say no to.

 

 

Additional information: Every written text of the exhibition is offered in English and Dutch, and is at times overwhelming. Nevertheless, it accompanies the visual part quite effectively. Except for the exhibition, you can watch many of Scorsese’s films in the museum’s screening rooms, but also some of his personal favorites. Check the full calendar here. 

How to get there: from the Amsterdam train station, you walk towards the back of the station, you reach the port, and you get one of the ferries that depart frequently. They are for free.

Prices: a full price is 13 euros, a reduced 11.5 euros and if you own a Museumkaart it costs 3 euros extra. Book them here.

The exhibition starts at 10 am and is open till 7pm. The film screenings are till 10pm. For more information, visit the Eye Film Museum website. If you book tickets online, you avoid the queues in the entrance of the museum.

(Photographs are taken with a Samsung phone, that is why the quality is poor)

A Winter Weekend in Wien (Vienna)

Traveling soothes the soul, the mind, the body. It refreshes the way we see the world; it broadens our horizons and it surely helps us relax. Even if we travel for one day or a weekend, the stimulation we gain from experiencing a new environment is enough to fill our days with beautiful memories.

I had the pleasure to discover one of Europe’s prettiest and most praised cities: Vienna. Last week I was pleased to see that it was ranked the city with the highest quality of life! And I can tell you that they have earned it. During four days (three and a half to be precise), I had the opportunity to explore this unique city. Vienna has so much to offer that it is very hard to choose where to go. However, with good planning and precious advice (uhhm mine of course) a short trip can be very fulfilling.

[This post reflects my experience in Vienna and intends to inform and help prospective travelers.]

First of all, Vienna has a lot to offer in terms of Art. There is art everywhere! All the old palaces are now galleries you can visit, with exhibitions that change throughout the year. Some of them are permanent all year long. I decided to start with art, because it was also one of our main goals of our visit there. Later I will focus on food (yeeees) and where to go for drinks. Some extra handy details will also be included.

A nice way to discover the Viennese atmosphere is to start by visiting its palaces. Since they are quite a lot, you better choose beforehand what looks more interesting to you. Also, don’t forget that all the palaces have entrance fees, so a careful budget will save you from unexpected costs. Nowadays, many of those palaces function as museums (Albertina, Belvedere), others are used by the government (Hofburg), while many share multiple functions. The famous Schönbrunn palace, for example, that used to be the summer imperial residence, now attracts millions of tourists for its architecture, interior design, gardens, but also its classical concerts. We visited the famous Albertina and the Belvedere palaces.

Albertina was built in 1744 for Count Emanuel Teles Silva-Tarouca and since then it has been destroyed and rebuilt throughout the years. It underwent a complete renovation in 2000 that lasted for three years. The famous Habsburg Staterooms were restored, while four new art exhibition rooms were created. We enormously enjoyed the permanent Impressionist and early 20th-century art. Monet and Picasso are the main figures of this exhibition, while we saw French Baroque and Rococo drawings from Poussin, Fragonard, Lorrain and David. The contemporary art section was super fun to see, such as the tribute exhibition of Austrian Markus Prachensky with his dynamic red compositions. The last room includes works from Andy Warhol to Anselm Kiefer and many other contemporary artists. My favorite part of this palace was undoubtedly the ground floor collection, the Film Stills! It contained unpublished film stills from iconic films of the 20th century: Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, Persona, The Great Dictator, Kino-Eye, Breathless, 8 ½, and many more (check the gallery below)! Unfortunately, this exhibition was temporary, but Albertina always includes new ones devoted to photography or film! Check the current exhibitions here.

Belvedere is a much smaller and compact museum, but with an extraordinary view. Before we arrived, it had heavily snowed, so you could see from its windows the misty white atmosphere covering the city. The part we focused on was the Upper Belvedere houses, where they have a massive collection of Austrian art, dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. This museum’s main focus is the permenet Gustav Klimt’s exhibition, but also Tina Blau’s. Its temporary exhibitions vary throughout the year. You can check what is coming here. Thankfully, we visited the museums on separate days, otherwise the art overdose could prove fatal!

I am not an art historian and my general art knowledge for the ones who know me is quite limited. Nevertheless, I enjoy art enormously, as much as I enjoy watching art films. When you look at beyond the obvious, the stated, the ordinary, it can transform your whole experience. Having said that, it is time to move on to my favorite place: The Art History Museum. It is big, diverse and perfect for beginners.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is located just behind the Natural History Museum (Maria-Theresien-Platz, 1010) and it is probably the greatest art history museum ever (yes too excited). It contains an immense amount of art on its two floors, that covers the course of more than 2000 years of human history. The ground floor starts with Ancient Egypt, followed by ancient Greek/Roman statues and objects. The care with which all the antiquities are exhibited is evident from beginning to end. As a Greek, it was heartwarming to see how beautifully they have put everything together. The first floor consists of Flemish, Dutch, French, Italian and Spanish paintings, from Breugel to Dürer and from Velázquez to Titian, all European masterpieces of the 16th and 17th century.

(for more information click the links on every museum/palace)

Vienna is worldwide famous for its coffee houses (Wiener Kaffeehaus). They are a vital part of the Viennese culture and attract thousands of tourists. Many of those coffee houses are constantly full and they offer a high quality of service and of course coffee! The famous Café Central was unfortunately closed during our visit, but we did enjoy a luxurious lunch and coffee at the Landtmann (Freud’s favorite). Its location is ideal since it is close to most of the famous museums (Universitätsring 4). We also visited Café Diglas and Stadtcafe, both located at the center of the city (check the photo gallery below). Some of the famous coffee houses can be a bit expensive, but they offer great quality service and superb food. Their coffee though is of a reasonable price and it is always accompanied with a glass of water. Waiters are constantly at your service; the way they dress and behave makes you feel like you are one of the many 19th century intellectuals visiting their coffee house! The atmosphere and vibe of those coffee houses are unique.

Now we need to seriously talk about food. A fantastic place we visited was the Vollpension lunch café, extremely popular for its granny dishes – literally they have old ladies cooking for you – and its vintage atmosphere. It can be very very busy so you better reserve, as it is not as spacious as the typical Viennese coffee house! For the price of 8, 90 we had the breakfast that offered bread with homemade spreads, two types of cheese, fruit and vegetables accompanied by a boiled egg. It was delicious! Don’t forget to try their cakes, you won’t regret it.

What you need to try, at least once, is the famous Viennese schnitzel! Lugeck is one of those restaurants that combine classical culinary traditions in a new and modern way. They offer the best schnitzel in town, served with cranberry sauce and potato salad. The Cuvee wine they had was superb! You will immediately feel the cozy atmosphere of the restaurant with its minimalistic environment. If you are looking for something more international, you should try the Medusa restaurant. They offer amazing dishes of the Italian cuisine. I had the pleasure to enjoy tagliatelle with salmon and extra parmesan! (pictures that will make you drool follow). And again, the wine I tried was magnificent – a local one whose name I forgot! If you feel like enjoying more drinks, a walk to the 25hours rooftop bar in the MuseumQuartier is ideal. You can meet people from around the world here (it is part of a hotel), while enjoying the breathtaking view with your favorite drink at hand.

One of the greatest experiences in Vienna was certainly going to the Opera. I have never visited an opera before, so the whole evening was quite special. The Vienna State Opera House is a majestic building that hosts every week different opera plays. We had the pleasure to watch Puccini’s Tosca, a story set in Rome at the time of Napoleon’s advance on the city. It was a moving and extraordinary experience. It lasted approximately 3 hours with two breaks in between. During the breaks, you can buy drinks or enjoy the small appetizers they offer. What made an impression on me was that the wine was the same price as the water, so better carry a water bottle, since paying more than 3 euros for water is quite extreme. I highly recommend for you to visit the opera, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan! You will be surprised by how intense it could be. The ticket prices vary: the higher you are, the cheaper it is.

The weather in Vienna was surprisingly ok. It had snowed just before we arrived and the snow started melting away through the weekend. It was quite rainy during our last day, so having an umbrella with you is advisable. From now on the weather will only get better, so dressing up in layers is wise. If you arrive by airplane, there is a bus service going every 30 minutes from the airport to central points, including the train station. It costs 8 euros and is extremely useful. The ride lasts approximately 40 minutes (from the airport to Morzinplatz/Schwedenplatz for example, close to the center). It is recommended to stay close to the center, since it is a very large city. We stayed at CH wellness apartments, which we booked online. You can find any type of hotel or apartment in the city on varying prices.

Beauty combined with culture, great food and amazing sightseeing is what Vienna means for me. Hopefully this article has been informative enough for any prospective traveler! Because traveling is what makes the world go around.

Let me know at the comments below about your experience and if you still have questions about traveling to Vienna, don’t hesitate to contact me!

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Click on the links to check the places online.

This post is not a promotion for any of the businesses mentioned above.

(Photos: Canon EOS 1000D, edited via Lightroom with VscoCam & Samsung A5 2016.)

 

An Italian food week

Italy is the ultimate paradise for people who appreciate good food. Ok, like you didn’t know that already.
From pasta to sauces of all kinds, from chocolate and bread, to cheese (oh yes) meat, wine and pizza, Italy has everything you ever dreamed of, my dear food lover. I kindly warn you for the content of the images that follow. You will drool on your keyboard.

And so my story begins last August, when I had the opportunity to travel to the region of Piemonte, Turin in particular. There, I had the pleasure of experiencing the real Italian food with a real Italian friend! So, next time you visit Turin, these are some of the MUST-EAT places you have to try!

First stop was the piadineria, a place where you can indulge yourself in many types of piadinae. Piadina is an Italian flatbread which is filled with anything you like. In Turin we visited the La Piadineria located at the center of the city (Via Accademia Albertina, 1/BIS), where I had the pleasure to try the “Legend”: piadina with prosciutto crudo and the amazing scquaquerone cheese, which is white, soft and melts in the mouth. All this was served with extra rocket salad. In the evening, it was time for pizza! One of the best places in town is the Le Rondini pizzeria. I treated myself with a different type of pizza, one with scamorza cheese, cabbage, eggplant, spicy sausage and mozzarella. It was really hard to choose; the variety of pizzas was fascinating.

 

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My second day we visited the biggest open market in Europe, the Porta Palazzo. There, we could explore tons of different types of cheeses, a variety of sausages, cold cuts and deli meats, but also fresh pasta. The market also has plenty of fresh vegetables, meat, fish and fruit! We bought some fresh ricotta cheese, which we later ate with some fresh white bread and mortadella.

Later that day, there was time for a break from all this food overload, so we enjoyed some iced ginger-lemongrass green tea at Hafa Café. This café has a distinctive Moroccan decoration and serves many varieties of tea, couscous dishes, salads, desserts and cocktails. Its menu and atmosphere combine in an effortless way the traditional with the modern. The café is located at Via Sant’Agostino 23/c, where most of the bars and restaurants are. In the evening, we cooked some fresh gnocchi with spinach, we added some homemade pesto and ate it with the fresh ricotta and the mortadella on the side.

The next day was time for some focaccia! After walking for hours, it was the perfect time to dive into the gorgeous taste of focaccia. At the Tipica Ligure we had focaccia with spinach and cheese (the rest I don’t remember, since we were too hungry to note the names down). That same evening, we cooked our own authentic caprese salad with REAL mozzarella, you know the one you can never really find in the supermarkets.

The fourth day was dedicated to picnic, since it was a national holiday and we couldn’t do much. But still, we treated ourselves with caprese sandwiches, cheese and bread, but also some great wine. Unfortunately, there are not pictures of the food; it was consumed before I even realized I had a camera.

Around the fifth day, we thought it proper to visit one of the most famous Italian supermarkets: Eataly! If you don’t know it, this is the time to introduce yourself to its products. I beg you, really. This supermarket is even in New York (and in Japan, Turkey, Arabia, Brazil), offering to the world an amazing chance to taste the glorious Italian food. They even have their own cooking school. There were long counters only with cheeses, long counters of chocolate, long counters of everything! It might be more expensive from a typical supermarket, but it is definitely worth it. You can start your visit by dropping by their café and finish the day with some homemade pizza, like we did. You can find all types of Italian food you ever dreamed of. Seriously, google it.

Later that day, it was time for the typical Aperitivo dinner. This ritual starts at around 6pm and it lasts till 9pm to most of the bars and small restaurants. They make their own cold and warm food: salads, pasta, bread, pizzas, oven dishes and much more. You eat ALL you can in those hours and you only pay 6-7 euros depending on the area. Sometimes in the price the alcohol is included. The one we visited was located at Via San Domenico 4 and is called Km5. This time I had a collection of many gorgeous things, but I tried so many that I didn’t even bother taking pictures of them. I drank some Barbera red wine with my food, which I loved.

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After walking all over Turin, we dragged ourselves to one of the most fantastic places ever: Cornetti Night. At this place you can find croissants which they fill for you with ANY type of crème: hazelnut, white, dark, milk, almond etc., etc. (this can take hours). I thought I would take something different, so I chose pistachio crema which was fantastic. I mean, did you think it wouldn’t? The day was officially over and our bellies were the happiest they have ever been. It also took a couple of hours to suggest this amount of food, but it was so worth it!

 

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You are probably wondering why I haven’t mention ice-cream so far, the famous gelato. Well, since we ate gelato EVERY SINGLE DAY, I thought it deserved some special attention. We tried ice-cream from many different places, but the one that is known as the best in town is the famous Grom gelaterie. Turin has at least four stores, but the one we visited consistently (I mean every day) is located at Via Accademia delle Scienze 4, next to the Piazza Castello. My favorite flavors were the salted caramel and bacio (chocolate with hazelnuts) ones! It is slightly more expensive, but the texture and taste of their gelato is fantastic.

 

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My last day I had the opportunity to eat a real Italian dinner, cooked by the sweetest Italian mom ever: Lidia. She had cooked ravioli with ragout sauce and fried veggies, which she accompanied with toma cheese and Dolcetto red wine.

 

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Eating in Italy is not just a need or a habit, it is an experience. People spent time, effort and give a lot of love to what they create. And I can relate to this, since Greek cuisine is also made with love and attention. The difference with the Italian one is that, since it is so popular, you are used to a really low quality of products if you don’t live in Italy. But tasting the real thing has been a revelation to me. Those places I visited and the foods I tried are only a small part of the variety and magnitude of the Italian cuisine. It is vast, amazingly good and easy to fall in love with. Even if you are a food lover or not, visiting Italy should be on your bucket list. That juicy cheese is longing to melt in your mouth; it is created to tickle your palate and make you feel the happiest person alive. Even for some minutes. Because this is why we love good food; it makes us happy. Pack your forks and off you go! Ciao!

 

Click on the links to check the places online.

This post is not a promotion for any of the businesses mentioned above.

(Photos: Canon EOS 1000D, edited via Lightroom with VscoCam. The pizza picture is taken with a Motorola phone.)

Het Fries Museum: The pride of Friesland

Walking towards the Frisian Museum, its majestic building is prominent to the visitor’s eye. With its big glass windows and its modern form, the unique building stands out without deviating from the architecture of the rest of the Wilhelminaplein buildings. Located in the center of Leeuwarden, the capital of the Friesland province, the museum is considered to be the personification of real Frisian pride! In its three floors you can explore parts of the history, art and culture of Friesland.

When entering the first part of the museum, sounds of farming life dominate the space. Church bells, sheep, tractors, thunder. In combination with the enormous landscape pictures on the wall, the first impression is totally…Frisian! The first floor is dedicated to history, geography and the Frisian culture, while it offers detailed information over why Friesland is the way it is. You can learn more about the sword of the famous Frisian hero Grutte Pier or the mysterious life and death of the dancer Mata Hari and discover the creation and development of the dikes in Friesland for the last 2000 years, probably the most interesting section of this floor. Explore 19th century paintings, pottery items, costumes, ancient findings and even a replica of the famous Hindeloopen room where you can discover the multicultural decoration style of this iconic Frisian city. There is so much diversity in this section that sometimes the desirable balance is lost and you find yourself struggling with all this information. Perhaps a second visit would be necessary.

The second floor offers a detailed account of the impact the Second World War had in Friesland. From a video installation that shows shortly the course of the war in the Netherlands with archival footage to the fascinating room full of stories from people who survived, this section will cause mixed feelings and force you to spend a considerable time exploring the video interviews of the survivors. There is also a database of every Jewish Frisian who either was killed or survived the war. Other sections of this floor introduce you to the Leeuwarden resistance, but also to other war exhibits. Treated with respect and care, this part can stand on its own, while it takes some distance from the rest of the museum exhibitions.

The entire third floor is dedicated to the fascinating textile work of contemporary artist Claudy Jongstra. You can discover her process and inspiration, but also her newest work: square, carpet-looking textiles that hang prominently from the ceiling. This part of the museum changes frequently, so there is always something new to explore (Alma Tadema’s exhibition is available from the 1st of October).

The personal exhibition of photographer Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, who creates dreamy and poetic photographic sequences, offers more diversity to the museum. Till the 30th of next month you can observe his view on our world via extreme close-ups of nature and multiple photographs of our universe. Repetition and deep blue colors dominate this beautiful exhibition.

Modern and full of pride, this museum aims also for an international audience, not only Frisian or Dutch. Every exhibit is described in Dutch or in Frisian and the portable English catalogs available in every floor prove priceless for internationals. Perhaps a more elaborate section for the Frisian language is what is missing. However, this museum is already a valuable Frisian cultural experience.

(This article was written on September 2016. Repost from the ExoDutch blog. )

Varosha, Famagusta: “The Ghost City”

Nicosia, October 2014

Our trip starts early. We pack our bags with food and bathing suits and we head down the road to cross the other side; we are heading to Famagusta. We are driving the road of free Cyprus now, close to the city. To our left there is a line drawn by dry grass, the buffer zone, the dead zone, the Green Line. Beyond this line we see the Turkish side. To our right we see British military bases and United Nations outposts. Towards Famagusta, close to the Sovereign Base Areas, photographs are forbidden. We cross endless dry fields where nothing seems to exist. Even nature looks remotely dead here.

At the checkpoint to enter the Turkish side we feel watched, exposed. The sign with the flag mocks us as we enter back to our car and slowly ride towards the city. Our passports are checked, the car is checked. Moments later we are crossing the streets of Famagusta. A weird statue stands in a roundabout, new and polished, trying to say something I assume, to prove something to the visitors. To me it sounds as breathless sounds with no meaning. Emptiness.

After we park our car, we head towards the famous beach in Varosha (Βαρώσια). My first steps echo strangely in the atmosphere. The air is suddenly heavier here. I notice the plastic fences cover many parts of the area we walk. I stumble. I look at the red sign and then I stop. Not so further beyond the artificial barricades and meters of black plastic fences, tens of ruined buildings stand silently in front of me. The corner of one of them is completely destroyed. It is the closest to where I stand and it looks strange, stopped in time. I ask and quickly learn it is bombed. It looks to me like an elevator shaft. The elevator itself is scattered on the ground floor in pieces. Wild nature blooms around it. This building stands here in this exact same condition for 40 whole years. Untouched and barricaded.

We take the small path and we enter the golden sandy beach. I think they call it Palm Beach. Some tourists sunbathe and some others swim inside a peaceful sea. It is a cloudy day. I look behind the beach and then I see it: lines of buildings, deserted from the war and again those ugly black plastic fences around them. Photos are forbidden. But who is checking either way? Except the tourists around me, nobody seems to be there to reassure it. The ghosts of the past drift around here sometimes at day, they do not care about photos. They care only about what they lost. They are grieving for a lost home, a lost relative, a lost store, a lost life. I don’t see those ghosts here today. But I do see something.

Not even a hundred meters by where we stand, to our right side, we discover more barricades blocking our way through the endless beach side. The rusty, dangerous nets scream silently “do not pass”. A guard appears from the other side. He walks slowly out of his small observatory, like a puma ready to attack. He comes to reassure no pictures are taken beyond this point and I know why. What looks at first glance as a coastline full of hotels and buildings, is actually a ghost town next to the sea. And it extends till the eye can see. Further in the horizon.

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The forbidden side.

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The touristic side.

A group of Turkish students come close and start a conversation with the guard in Turkish. They probably protest why they can’t take pictures of this disturbing view. He slowly moves his tail and comes to a proud position. It is time for him to explain to these youngsters all those things he has so eagerly rehearsed in his lair. He responds with a long explanation that sounds like preaching. We can’t stop wondering what he is saying. I am doubting whether I should ask an English translation. Those students probably know English. But I stop and think: do I really want to know what he is saying?

After what seems like a thousand years, we decide not to swim there. How can we either way? I’ve been told that since 2004, when the line opened, hundreds of people who lost their properties, their families and lives, come here often and swim in the waters and they feel good about it. Because they can have at least that. A swim next to the old stolen life.

We are heading towards the car. Somehow we feel we need to witness more of this. I know we will never come back here again during the course of our lives, so the necessity to see more is evident. I can’t stop feeling this deep burden on my chest the whole afternoon. And the weather is really not helping today. All those menacing clouds above us. We ride around the barricaded city to see more of the protected ruins. A destroyed orthodox church here, an old deserted bar there. The sign of it still stands silent. The rest of it – probably the owner’s name – is painted with dark red color. Like the color of blood.

Next to the fenced ghost city, I can’t help but notice that life here keeps going on. Why wouldn’t it either way? It always does. Small houses, old and new, are inhabited with people brought by the government in order to occupy the city as proper as possible. Every morning they wake up and they look at this.

A few blocks down we see an old deserted church. This is in the village area, so we can enter. There is no door. There is actually no roof. Only some remains stand there, yellowed by time. The pictures on the walls seem scratched, like someone tried to erase history. It seems to be a very very old church. So old that its historical importance and need for restoration shout out at our bewildered faces. And absolutely nothing can be done.

We take a small alley and we reach the center. Some touristic shops, an old catholic church turned into a mosque and tens of people sitting and talking. Suddenly I feel observed. I feel the eyes of the people on me. Strange feeling. I decide to ignore it. We take a small break and we reach out to our car to head to the mountains. The city is too much for us to bear.

After an hour and a half of driving, we reach the castle we were planning to visit: the Buffavento castle. We think we are alone here, but we soon realize there are more crazy people like us who drove in the middle of nowhere for an old forgotten castle. We look up and we see it. It must be quite high, but to our ignorant eyes it looks like we can easily reach it. It takes us 40 minutes to climb the endless stone stairs in order to finally enjoy the view. It is breathless.

The ruins of the castle reflect a mystery. How many wars those stones have seen? We are ecstatic and our camera’s can’t stop capturing moments. Tons of fresh air enter our tired heavy lungs and it is time to descend. On the way back with the car I notice how neglected the area is. The excitement of the adventure didn’t allow me to see this before. Garbage is everywhere, a sign of complete neglect.

As we ride down towards the main road, next to Pentadaktylos Mountain range, we see the “biggest flag on the world”. All made out of stones. White and red. Down the street two white beautiful dogs stare at us like guards who are staring at intruders. We drive and we drive towards the Ayios Dhometios (Άγιος Δομέτιος)/Metehan gate, in order to escape from all the feelings, all the burden, all the pain this land carries. The words of my beloved friend echo in my head again and again: “Who cries for these buildings, these streets, these trees? Who weeps for all this?”.

Famagusta, Cyprus, October 2014

All Rights Reserved © Vicky Griva Photography

(Repost from the Archive.)

A Day in The Hague

Visiting The Hague is probably one of my favorite things to do.

As a multinational city, it is sometimes rare even to find people speaking Dutch. There are many international companies that employ foreigners, and since all embassies are located there, you will find people from all around the world walking the streets of the city.

You will hear French, Italian, Asian languages and so much Spanish that you will wonder where exactly on the planet you are. Well, this is The Hague and this is why we love it!

Every time I visit The Hague, I enjoy this diversity. You might wonder, what is the difference with Amsterdam then? Well, Amsterdam consists of mostly tourists and the people living in the Hague always inspire a different vibe to me. The Hague has more class, – if I can say that – and is definitely less busy. Perhaps this vibe and this class I am talking about comes from the fact that all government facilities are there, plus the King’s Palace and the International Court of Justice. Don’t get me wrong! I love Amsterdam and its atmosphere. The Hague is just different.

I had the opportunity to visit the city since a friend of mine lives there. Every time I go there, I wish I could stay more than just a weekend. Hopefully I can explore more of the city in the future!

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Fountain at Buitenhof

The center of the city is in walking distance from the central train station and you have a great choice between trams and buses if you don’t want to walk or the weather is bad. Also, the OV fiets is a great option for people who want to explore this city the typical Dutch way, by biking through it!

The Hague offers great shopping options. Almost all famous brands and chain stores are located at a walking distance and you can visit shopping malls or even better, explore the local shops for house design, clothing and more. Check here for some extra information for shopping in The Hague.

You can also visit the Nordeinde Palace of the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander. It is the King’s working place, but also where the Dutch Royal family lives. From there, you can visit the Palace Garden which is open to the public every day. The Palace itself is not open for visits, but if you walk a little bit further, you will explore a fantastic little neighborhood with art galleries, small cafes and restaurants, fashion boutiques, jewelry and antique dealers. It is probably the only place I have visited so far that has Dutch flags hanging everywhere in its small streets! It is absolutely beautiful.

When it comes to food, there is always a great restaurant or lunch cafe that you can visit in every neighborhood. I had the pleasure of going to De Bakkerswinkel (Torenstraat 142), a great lunch cafe, where I enjoyed the great weather from their terrace, along with some bio jasmine tea and a fresh courgette soup. Very friendly personnel, decent food prices and a great atmosphere.

As a city, it is great for walking, even if in many parts of it there are constructions happening lately. This made the city a little unattractive to me, but it definitely did not ruin the walking experience.

Stay tuned for my next visit to this fascinating city, where I would like to discover more art, pubs and the famous seaside, Scheveningen!

 

(Photos: taken with my Samsung Galaxy A5, 2016)

Featured image: Willem Van Oranje statue at Buitenhof.