EXPLORING HOME: CINQUE TERRE, PORTOVENERE, VIAREGGIO

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In my 2017 resolutions, I listed “visiting my own region a bit more” as one of my top priorities. I was adamant to do this as I realised much of the beauty of my country was getting lost on me, as I wasted my days away without paying it enough attention. 

My hometown, as some of you might know, is Genova, a nice coastal city in the region of Liguria, Italy. Liguria is famous for its sea and its cliffs, its unique towns overlooking the Mediterranean sea and its traditional food, such as pesto and focaccia (yes, we made them happen). Whenever I tell people where I am from, I always describe it as a beautiful place, definitely worth visiting. One of the underrated cities of Italy that not every tourist knows, but which are actually a little gem in the west coast of the country. From the food to the landscapes, I rave about my own land and advise everyone to visit, because we have plenty of stunning spots to tick off the map. 

As I say these things though, I can’t help thinking how little I actually move around it myself, mainly staying in Genova every time I go back, hanging out with my friends and not doing much else. People wish they were born in Italy and here I am, lucky enough to come from this land and yet not appreciating it enough to go out and see it for myself. Leaving it to the tourists to explore, as I sit around at home ignoring it all. 

STEP 1: CINQUE TERRE

When you google “Italy”, one of the first pictures which usually pops up was shot in my own region, and is called Cinque Terre. This is a conglomerate of small towns built directly onto the sea, whose view is simply stunning and attracts millions of tourists each year. Although fairly close to Genova, I only visited this spot a couple of times, and that was with my parents when I was really young. Hence, I don’t remember much of the trips and the memories I do have are pretty faded by now. Because of my appreciation for hiking and wanting to complete my 2017 resolutions, I decided it was time to create some fresh memories and visit the place again, hiking it up between one town and another as I admired the sea and nature of the land. 

The chance to do this presented itself in the form of a friendly visit, as I welcomed my Rotterdam flatmate in my hometown once again. Because he had already been to Genova, I felt it was time to venture out and show him some new places in the region, and took up the opportunity to finally go back to the Cinque Terre myself and try to remember what the fuss is all about. We took a train on a bright Friday morning from Genova, which supposedly took us directly to the Cinque Terre without any changes, and sat in wait. Until we missed our stop.

The original plan was to get off in Manarola and visit the place, hiking back towards the towns on the west side so as to visit more than one. Because of my timing skills though, I decided to go to the train toilet right as we got to Manarola, hence us missing our stop. Thankfully, the next one was in Riomaggiore, the last of the Cinque Terre towns and therefore still a good starting point for our trip. What I wasn’t aware of – because realistically I didn’t do much research on the Cinque Terre. YOLO – is that the hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola is actually pretty much the most mainstream thing you can do, which meant the trail was full of tourists sweating it up between one town and another. Although our intentions weren’t to do the most popular trail you could do, I guess that means we got to see one of the most beautiful ones, which I’m happy about.

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We then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon there, as I faked being a tourist and only spoke in English to everyone (I love being a tourist, even when I’m not). I realised how ridiculously expensive these places are made to be, in order to suck out every penny from the unlucky foreigners travelling through, which was sad as we were both starving.

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STEP 2: LA SPEZIA

After a few hours googling new things to do and see, we decided to set off towards La Spezia, a city which I have hard a lot about but I had never actually visited myself. This city is about an hour and a half away from Genova and to be honest it’s got a really cool name. La Spezia literally means “the spice”, which I find really edgy and nice sounding. Turns out it looks pretty similar to Genova, if a bit less uphill and smaller.

After walking around the city centre for a bit, we ended up at the harbour, which slightly reminded me of the Genova one – if a bit less crowded and calmer. It was relaxing to just walk by the water and look at all the fishermen boats, surrounded by their unique smell in the warmth of the setting sun. Magical in a way that only a sea city can be!

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After that, we set on a hunt for our airbnb of the night (shout out to Marzia, our host – the room was super nice and central, we definitely got lucky!). This was followed by the second pizza of the trip, destined to be followed by another two or three in the following days, because I like pizza and I like the word “follow”. Unfortunately, I am getting old and my body was too exhausted by the day to resist through the night, which means I fell asleep straight away much to the dismay of my friend who wanted to go out. Hashtag retired life.

STEP 3: PORTOVENERE

On our second day, we decided to visit Portovenere, another coastal town just outside of La Spezia, easily reachable in about half an hour with a local bus. The bus is only €2.50 and it takes you directly into Portovenere, which is a pretty good deal to me, after which you can relax and admire once again the nice coastline.

Portovenere in itself is pretty small: a bunch of colourful houses overlooking the bay, castle ruins and a few alleyways full of small souvenir shops and restaurants to aid the hungry souls. It sits opposite of a little island which protects it from the sea, blocking out the waves and creating a small, peaceful paradise for this small town.

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If you walk up the castle through the small archways, you can get to the other side of the coast, where the views are breathtaking. Waves crashing against the cliffs in the bluest shade of blue, releasing the freshest sea salt smell you can ever get. The only downsides of this place is the high number of tourists (and the wind), which might make it less relaxing to see. Nonetheless, definitely something worth seeing!

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The rest of the trip was pretty chilled. We found ourselves spending hours just sitting on the rocks or by the pier and staring out into the blue, taking it all in and relaxing against the view, which is the best way to spend a day if you ask me.

STEP 4: VIAREGGIO

That night, we had two options: going back to Genova or trying something new, as we didn’t want to spend an extra night in La Spezia. We decided to look up on my couchsurfing profile any available host within 50 miles, pretty open to any option as long as we could manage to see something new. We ended up finding a nice guy able to host us – in Tuscany – which meant we had to run for the bus back to La Spezia and then the train to get there at a decent time of night.

As we got there quite late, we didn’t have time to properly see Viareggio at night, but our host was kind enough to lend us one of his bikes and take us to the beach promenade to get something to eat. You’d think this is fine, right? Think again. The bike we were given was a two-people kind of bike, where both pedal at the same time to make the thing moving. Which again is okay. If it wasn’t that the thing was so high I could barely stretch my legs to pedal all the way, resulting in probably one of the most frightening bike rides of my life. Whoever says being short is a blessing should re-evaluate their views. At the same time, it was a nice experience and we got to see a lot more in a lot less time, which was convenient.

Fun fact: as soon as we got to the beach promenade, I realised I had actually been to Viareggio before. And completely erased it from my memory till that moment. That made our stay a bit less exciting – how depressing is it to think you’re seeing a new place only to find out you’re not?? – but still fun nonetheless.

The next morning, we took a stroll by the beach once again, past a small market and headed towards the National Reserve within Viareggio. This is the only photo I got of the trip and it’s pretty lame, but here you go. Unfortunately, we only got to see a bit of the park before having to head back to the train station, as we weren’t sure how long it would take us to walk back there by foot.

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Back at the station, we finally boarded our train back home (well, my home) – Genova. Overall, it was a really cool trip, if really short, as I got the chance to see more of my own region and witness its beautiful landscapes. I was happy as I ticked off one more thing off my 2017 resolutions list, and am definitely planning on doing more small trips around the area when I am back for the summer.

I am sorry if this turned out to be a really long post, but I hope you enjoyed the photos and reading about it, and that I perhaps managed to convince some of you to visit one of these places. They really are worth it.

With that said, I wish you all a lovely day and happy travels to all the wandering souls out there.

Until the next post,

Elena

WHY I DON’T LIKE AMSTERDAM

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It’s a universal truth that I love the Netherlands. I know it, you know it, the whole world knows it, after months of me raving about it and telling literally anyone they should go there. The perfect country, where every thing works nicely and every one looks serene, where even the things that don’t work can’t annoy you because EVERYTHING IS JUST SO GOOD.

So I like the Netherlands. However, one thing that I am not a huge fan of is something which some of you might throw stones at me for. I have heard the stories before: Amsterdam is beautiful, Amsterdam is magical, best city in Europe, “I would love to go back”, amazing Amsterdam. To me, it’s a whole different story which I am about to tell you.

I went to Amsterdam for the first time on September 5th, for a job interview. Until then, all I had heard from Amsterdam were good stories and, having liked The Hague, I thought this would just be better. I was staying in Rotterdam, which is completely different from any other city in the Netherlands, so anything was destined to come as a surprise to me. Before moving there, I had been telling my friends how close I would be to Amsterdam, excited to finally visit this city and sure I would spend most of my weekends there.

Well my friends, the capital was a whole different thing for me. I got to the city in the early morning, stressed and anxious about my interview. Instantly I was confused: somehow, I managed to get out from the wrong side of the station, ending up staring into the Amsterdam waters with no clue of where I was going. I quickly went back inside and started looking for the tram I was supposed to take, which I couldn’t see anywhere. Somehow, people living there seemed to not know where the stupid tram was supposed to be, which irritated me and didn’t help my first impression of the city. After finally boarding it, I started looking out the windows to get a proper look of the famous Amsterdam. What I saw didn’t really cause a great reaction on me: canals like the ones I had seen in the Hague, more shops and herds on herds on herds of tourists everywhere. 

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After getting to my stop, I managed to find the place for my interview, after which I decided to walk back to the station to see a bit of the city and find something nice to do to pass the time (as I had a day ticket and could go back to Rotterdam whenever I wanted). Walking through the city centre, I saw loads of bars, pubs, restaurants and little souvenir shops, which didn’t really speak to me in any way. As I got closer to the main attractions of the city, the tourists started appearing once again. Everywhere. I looked around and saw canals projected against modern buildings, in a city which managed to somehow mash nature and civilisation in a really nice way.

I then proceeded to sit in the sun, trying to immerse my aching feet in the not-so-clean water while I enjoyed the vibe of the city and the surge of energy coming from the people. Because I do like that about crowded cities – the power and silent energy which flows around and through you, as you are surrounded by human beings living and breathing and moving through air. I just find it absolutely fascinating and it gives me a sense of power which I hardly get from anything other than people. I guess it’s also why I study communication – nothing makes me happier than communicating and exchanging stories, behind part of each other’s experiences and interacting constantly. Although I do need some time on my own more often than not, I could not live in a place which doesn’t have many people – it’s just not for me. Still, this needs to be filtered in the right way.

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I am not gonna tell you Amsterdam is not nice or not worth visiting – it probably is. The Netherlands are a seriously stunning country and the canals are definitely worth seeing – sitting by one is such a relaxing and peaceful feeling, which can relieve the city stress in wonderful ways. However, if you’re into that, I really don’t see the point in staying in a place where you can’t enjoy shit because tourists, noises and souvenir shops are taking up every corner. If you have a job interview which you feel hasn’t gone too well, too, it just isn’t meant to work for you.

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To me, Amsterdam is a nice dream. It’s full of life, you can have a good time, you can always be surrounded by people and you can enjoy a huge variety of events happening daily in the city. Despite that, it just feels a bit too commercial, like a posterised version of any other smaller town in the Netherlands. Why the need to get lost in this chaos when you can witness the same beauty in a much more honest and authentic place?

In the Amsterdam vs Rotterdam fight, I would pick Rotterdam without batting an eye, as different as Rotterdam can be to any other city in the country. It just feels different, less commercial and less advertised, more raw somehow. Like the rebel sibling who never follows the rules. The Hague, Utrecht, Delft etc are the more silent but beautiful inside younger cousins. Amsterdam is the vain big sister. Ok I’m done.

Soooo in short, it’s up to you! Now you know why I’m not a big fan of the capital, but please don’t let that hold you back from visiting the city. Each experience is different and mine was certainly affected by my mood of the day, my company and just generally the way I felt. It also highly depends on what kind of person you are, so what I hate might be something that you absolutely love. If you have visited the city and would like to express your opinion, please comment below and let me know! Would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

Either way, I hope you’re all having a lovely day! And I will see you at the next blog post. 🙂

Elena

WE’RE ALL HUMANS

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(photo courtesy of http://www.businessinsider.com/)

I was on the train yesterday, on my way back to Milan to then get to the airport and catch my flight. It was a bright, warm and sunny day, although the early morning covered everything in a fuzzy haze of tiredness which clouded up my vision for most of the trip. To keep myself awake – and avoid missing my stop – I decided to play some music on my laptop and noticed two foreign guys staring at me and speaking in their own language. I asked if they needed anything, to which they replied no, but still they kept looking which quite frankly was distressing me a bit.

At last, the youngest of the two seemingly decided to take the plunge and approach me, asking me what brand my laptop was. We started talking, in English, which he was amazed I could speak so decently despite being Italian (Italy is not the best English speaking country in the world, unfortunately). Although a bit diffident at first, I found myself liking speaking to this man and I guess he did as well. I asked where he was from and he told me he’d come all the way from Nigeria. When I asked him “Why did you come to Genova, of all cities?”, he replied “Because that’s where I found myself”. That struck me more than it should have. 

As a born and bred Italian, I know my country pretty well. I know its people, its attitudes, its ways of thinking. I’d be lying if I said some of those weren’t the reason I decided to leave. Italy can be welcoming and can tear you apart, it can open up its arms in a warm embrace and can kick you till you bleed. Underneath the layer of sunshine, food, music and fun, there’s a darker place, full of resentment and close-mindedness, which has been fed by twentieth century propaganda and the mass media presenting people with manipulated facts. That’s the reason why what he said next struck a chord inside of me, as I knew he was completely right. He looked at me, smiled and said: “you’re the first Italian I have met who is nice to me. I have never met anyone like you”. It sounds crazy that someone should be so amazed at the fact that you are simply being polite to them, merely going as far as answering questions and attempting at making a conversation, and it made me feel ashamed of my country and of a lot of Europeans as a whole, as I know the negative views are widely embraced by the masses.

“That’s where I found myself” is something which should instantly ring bells inside your head. I hear people everyday going on about how unfair it is that we have to “take in” so many immigrants, talking about how we just “can’t afford” these waves of foreigners taking our lands, our homes, our money, slowly making their way into our societies and shaping them according to their beliefs. When did these walls come up and why are we not trying to tear them down? Why is there such a strong division between people, who could be from Asia, the North Pole, the Sun or Mars, but are still people nonetheless? “That’s where I found myself” sounds like desperation more than anything else, something that goes beyond economical reasons and goes to the core of the issue: these people need support.

In school, we learn how humans developed through the centuries, how they went from crawling on all fours to being able to stand on two feet, building houses and tools for themselves, creating languages to unify communities and learning that team work is better than individualism. We learn that the earth is one and that we all come from it, independently from which specific piece of land we happened to be born in. What makes one person more worthy than another and what makes someone belong to a space more than someone else? Why do we need to have borders which separate us, drive hatred and make us all feel a bit less of that human we’ve been talking about for so long?

Here was this guy, standing in front of me and smiling at me as if we were on the same level. As if I was as worthy of talking to him as he was of talking to me. Face to face, human to human. He told me I was the only person who had truly been nice to him, and I kept wondering why? We hear stories everyday of people risking their lives, fighting as hard as they can to cross over, flee “their” broken lands and find a better future somewhere else. Chances are this guy has found himself in more life or death situations I could ever have nightmares about, as well as gathering up the courage to actually leave his home for the complete unknown, hoping it would be better. To me, that’s definitely worth some admiration and respect. Instead, they found themselves in a hostile land which looks at them as if they’re thieves, guilty of stealing something which wasn’t even there to begin with. It broke my heart to hear and to see the pain in his eyes as he told me about his dreams, which had come to a halt as the reality of Europe – and of people’s views – dawned on him and his friends. 

I am writing this blog post because I want to say my own on this and I want to ask a general question: why? Why do we treat other human beings as if they were less than us and when did we lose our integrity, our love and our sense of solidarity against all odds? When did we become less of those humans we speak of with so much praise and most importantly, can we fix that?

5 THINGS I LEARNT IN POLAND

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Poland has been a great trip for a lot of reasons, from it being my first proper solo trip to all the amazing places I got to see and all the things I got to experience. Landing in the middle of the night in a foreign land, taking an overnight bus across the whole nation and waking up on the other side of it – in another stranger city – was an awesome adventure, especially in a country that you can’t speak the language of and where people run away from you every time you try to speak English to them.

During my time there, I had the chance to learn a few things about this incredible nation, so I decided to list out the 5 facts that stood out to me more. These are both things that were explained to me and things that I noticed on my own, much to the dismay of a couple Poles sporting differing opinions on the matter. I’m not from there so can’t tell for sure, but here’s what I noticed!

  1. DRINKING IN PUBLIC IS NOT ALLOWED

I don’t know why I was surprised. It is the same in the UK, even the Netherlands for that matter, so I should have been prepared. Being born and bred in a country where that’s never been an issue though, the thought of not being able to take a drink outside always comes as a shock. It’s something that I truly do not understand, although I’m guessing it has something to do with the higher level of alcohol consumption of Northern countries. I am not sure. Perhaps it’s safer?

In Italy, drinking is more of a social thing, where you go to outside bars with your friends and have a drink or two, perhaps while smoking a cigarette. That’s the typical Italian vibe. When I moved to the UK, I was surprised by the completely different culture, where drinking was more of a chore to do each night, the ultimate mission being completely smashed. Hence the no drinking outside rule. However, Poland seemed to me to be a bit tamer than that, so I’m still trying to figure this one out.

Either way, the final lesson learnt is: DO NOT TAKE YOUR DRINK OUTSIDE. DOWN IT, FRESHER.

2. TOBACCO BOUGHT AT TRAIN STATIONS IS ABSOLUTE SHITE

I had experienced this one in Budapest before. Got there, happily bought two packs of cheap tobacco, only to open them and find a nasty, dry, poor excuse of a tobacco staring back at me in shame. I thought I had gotten unlucky that one time, or perhaps that Hungarian people liked to smoke a very interesting kind of Marlboro. I didn’t make much of it, aside from crying over my wasted money.

However, when taken by a sudden need to smoke (and having finished my tobacco), I decided to venture out to the Gdansk train station to buy a pack, only to be welcomed by the same old dry little shit. At that point, I figured the whole Eastern Europe had a thing for dry tobacco, and settled to smoking it without complaining too much and to never buy a pack again east of Germany or Italy.

I finally found an answer two days later, when I went out in Krakow with people from my first hostel (I switched after the second day because why not). As the hostel was pretty empty, my roommate and I decided to go for drinks with the hostel staff, a bunch of locals who took us to a nice pub in the heart of  Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. As I was having a cigarette outside with some of the girls, I tried to make conversation by discussing about my awful tobacco (I am such a good conversationist), explaining how dry and difficult it was to roll. Only then, much to my dismay, I found out that apparently you should never buy tobacco at stations, as it’s always going to be like that. In order to get proper tobacco, you’re gonna have to head to your local Kiosk, which is specifically designed to sell you decent stuff instead of what I got. According to them, it’s a thing in this part of Europe that I should be wary of.

The moral of the story, which I admittedly took a very long time to explain despite it being so simple, is don’t buy tobacco at the station, do yourself a favour and go to the kiosk instead. Your lungs will still hate you, but perhaps slightly less than before.

3. DRIVERS ARE REALLY NICE

As soon as I pointed out this one to a Polish couchsurfer (who stayed at ours right after I got back), he shuddered and told me this is an absolute lie. According to him, Polish drivers are crazy, don’t respect rules and, most importantly, they do not care about pedestrians that much. For me though, it was the exact opposite.

I admit it might have been because I was mainly in touristy places (Gdansk, Krakow, Zakopane), but I swear those drivers were some of the nicest ones I have ever encountered. Let’s be clear: I come from Italy, where driving rules are an option that no one decides to select, so my standards are pretty low in that sense. However, being in Poland made me feel absolutely safe in a lot of ways, and this was definitely one of them.

There were so many times it wasn’t even my time to cross, but still people would just stop, smile and let me walk, which greatly improved my morning moods. In the Krakow city centre, the traffic lights are not even on, as people just stop every time someone needs to cross. I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating that must be for drivers, but to me it felt great and really, really alien compared to what I’m used to.

One thing I noticed is how fucking fast they drive when there’s no people around, but that’s another story.

4. COMMUNISM IS STILL FELT VERY STRONGLY

To people from more Western countries – such as Italy or the UK – Communism is a big chunk of history which everyone knows about. We study it in school, we discuss it with other people, we make assumptions, think we know more than we do, we sometimes praise it and sometimes demolish it, we talk about it as something which we know about, but we don’t actually know. Communism is a constant presence in our minds, yet we talk about it as a foreign mentality which can only be restricted to a hypothesis. We think its history in Europe is done and dusted, everyone has moved on, the countries which used to be subjected to it just got used to live in a different way.

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And they did. New economies, new philosophies and ways of thinking, new lifestyles emerged in these countries, in a way which had been unthinkable before. Milk bars, which I talked about in this post and which used to be a normality, became a symbol of the past, a reminder of it but also a tourist attraction which significantly lost its original meaning. Shops, chains and restaurants opened up, in fact whole countries opened up to the world and to its changes, in a way which had never been seen before. And yet the scars remained, together with the imprints of a flawed system, which meant these countries unfortunately fell behind more developed ones in the rest of Europe.

As a foreigner, I had never truly thought about how these countries could feel about Communism – John Lennon used to praise it, young people take it up as a philosophy of life, some people speak of it as if it was a big saviour for our society. But the reality is different, one which highlights the hard sides of it and the impracticality of most structures preached by past supporters.

When I started talking to my friend about it, he told me Communism still plays a huge part in Polish society. Studying history, despite disliking characters such as Stalin for obvious reasons, I was always intrigued by Lenin, whom I thought was not half as bad. When I told Tomek so, he immediately looked at me and suggested I don’t share this opinion with a lot of people in Poland, as they don’t like talking about it. I thought it was odd at first, until I realised Lenin – the early voice of communism for Russia – was someone whom Polish people associate with the fall of their economy, a regime which dragged the country to its knees and denied it freedom of speech and of managing their own system for decades, until they managed to fight back. The cause of Poland’s current slow economy, which places a once wealthy country in a particularly weak position compared to other EU members.

When I asked other people about it, they mostly agreed with this opinion, and I decided to keep quiet about the matter for most of my trip as I didn’t want to upset anyone. Still, this fact together with the climate in Krakow – where you could literally breathe the history and pain of the country – made me realise how Communism is still a dark, heavy presence in these places, in a way which I had never considered before.

5. THE BEER IS NOT VERY GOOD 

I’m really sorry to say this one and I wouldn’t want to, but I thought I’d throw in this piece of information for the beer lovers out there. Poland might not be the place for you. As a keen beer drinker, I love to go out and try new ones every where I go. As with food, it’s a great and fun way to experience a culture, as well as giving you the chance to discover your new favourite drink. In regards of Poland, as I have mentioned before, their food is amazing, so they excel in that department. However, for what concerns piwo instead, it is a whole other story which I regret to tell.

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I am a bitter lover. I like bitter, sour, strong tastes, in beer especially. I like IPAs and I like stouts, going for the occasional lager if the situation requires it. When I walked into my first Polish pub, I immediately realised draft IPA was hardly an option and, preferring draft over bottle, I tried a blonde one which they said was “the most bitter they had”.

It was bad.

And it was not bitter.

Playing it on bad luck, I didn’t think much of it and went again to try a new one the next time, thinking I would do better on this occasion. Unfortunately, I was once again dissatisfied with the sweetish, bland taste of it, which made me feel depressed at my obvious lack of beer-choosing skills.

In Poland, most beers I saw on draft were Czech, which personally I am not a big fan of. After spending six months in the Netherlands surrounded by Belgian beers, I feel like I have a good excuse for that. Still, that meant I didn’t really enjoy my drinks, to the point where one night I literally took over an hour to finish a pint as it was so bad I couldn’t even drink it. I feel like I am sounding like a spoilt bitch but I swear it was just bad. 😦

Admittedly, I didn’t spend enough time in Poland to fully try a lot of beers. I told the same to a friend, saying I didn’t experiment enough with them. I am sure if I had, I would have found some really good ones, perhaps from local breweries. I actually wanted to go into one on my last day, but for once I didn’t feel like beer and I couldn’t carry it in my hand luggage on the plane, which meant a no on that occasion (I regret it now, cause I was curious to find out what local tasted like, but hey ho).

Still, after trying a few beers, the fact that I could not find a single one that I liked tells me something about it. Maybe I am just too picky with my beers and maybe I just plain have bad taste, but I do value what drink highly and therefore place a lot of importance on it as I am sure others do. My point being, unless you have a lot of time to go full force and try a lot of beers, Poland is not the place for beer tasting.

Food is amazing though! So definitely go for that.


 

So that sums it up for the five things I learnt in Poland! I tried to keep it varied and point out things which the casual traveller might not now, so that you’re prepared for when you set off on your trip.

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you’re having a great Easter!

Have a lovely day

Elena

BUS JOURNEYS

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Some people like to fly, some would rather take the road. Some stand in the middle, eager to move through air but also happy to witness landscapes from the ground floor. Personally, I do a fair share of both, as quite often – which means every single time – the airports I make use of are not in my immediate proximity. This means that most of the time, my travels require both methods of transportation to reach my desired destination.

I like bus journeys. Flying is cool and I absolutely love it, but there’s something about being level on level with nature that just does it for me. I like staring out the windows and getting lost in my own mind, taking in the scenery as I reflect on anything going on in my life. 

Bus journeys are usually longer than flights, even if the actual distance is way smaller. They’re way more relaxing – you sit down, tuck your things away and just nestle in your seat in search for the perfect position. When you board a flight, by the time the lights have gone off, your ears have acquired functionality once again and you are finally allowed to wear the damned earphones and free your coveted seat desk, you’re already almost there and sadly ready to do it all over again for the landing. Unless it is an intercontinental flight, this routine happens more quickly than you can process it and leaves you tired, deaf and possibly gives you a sore throat. Add to that the fact that, unless the sky is clear, the most you see are clouds, and you can see why bus journeys have their own perks.

I was recently on a three hour bus journey from Glasgow to Aberdeen, retreating home after a long day of filming in the city. I had a lot on my mind and, as it happens in life, had barely had the chance to sit down and reflect. Time always seems to escape from our hands, doesn’t it? No matter how hard we try to hold onto it. The more you squeeze it, the smaller it gets, and the cycle continues until you pause and close your eyes for a second.

As it happens, this bus journey was my time to do just that. Surrounded by the Scottish landscapes, I allowed my mind to finally rest and wander to those far away thoughts which I had kept at bay until then. Three hours flew by as I stared into nothingness and enjoyed the solitude of my mind. I was at a strange peace with myself, as my mind and body were moving at the same pace, through air and space. 

That’s the magic about bus journeys: they take you to your destination, they push you towards new lands and they give you the comfort of silence for those few hours. You enter one reality and get out in another, as the ride kindly allows you to sit back and make peace with yourself before throwing you out in a different land.

I am not dissing flight journeys, on the contrary I think there’s upsides in both. There’s something unique about being up in the sky, away from everything and anything, as if you were able to escape to another universe for some time. I just find more peace in driving on the concrete road, immersing myself into the nature of a country and being surrounded by it, in a way that a plane unfortunately cannot do.

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If you’re embarking on any of these soon, I highly suggest you take these moments for yourself, making the best of the experience by immersing into the depth of your mind. Who knows what you might find?

POLAND TRAVEL GUIDE: FOOD

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Anyone who knows me knows I love food. I can’t decide if it’s because of my Italian upbringing, because of a genuine passion or just because I’m a fat ass. I guess it’s a bit of all of them. Point being, one of my favourite things about travelling and visiting new places is trying the local cuisine and unique dishes which you can’t find anywhere else, as I feel it’s one of the best and most enjoyable ways to experience a different culture.

To be completely honest with you, I had never heard much of Polish food. Sure, there are a lot of small Polish small shops in Aberdeen, but I had only been there a few times and wasn’t really sure what to try out. My knowledge of it was pretty much nonexistent.

  1. STREET PASTRIES

Because my first couple days in Poland were spent with an actual Polish guy to introduce me to the culture, I quickly got to know a few “must try”s of Poland, which ranged from basic street food to more traditional dishes. One of the first things I tried is something that I honestly don’t know the name of, that we got at a random stand on the street. It was shaped like a small ball, sweet and covered in white powder. I wasn’t sure what to get and if I would like it, so I went for this one as it looked small enough to be safe to try. Needless to say, it was really good, so I decided to venture out and try another one at a stand inside the train station (quick note: train stations in Poland are the same as in Hungary, aka full of small fast food stands full of cheap and delicious food. I fucking love it). This one was a sort of shapeless pastry with a sugar glazing all over it, and apparently my friend’s favourite one. I looked pretty much like this and I had to try it.

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On my second day, Tomek (my friend) and his friend took me to a really traditional Polish place: Milk Bar. Apparently, during Communist times in Poland food was often lacking, not necessarily because of lack of money but because of lack of actual food to buy or sell. Milk Bars were the places where people – and workers especially – could get their fair share of nutrition at a good price, sometimes included in their overall salary. Sort of like a school cafeteria, but nation wide. To this day, although Communism has collapsed, Milk Bars are still a staple in Poland, where you can get pretty good food for a fraction of the price that you’d pay anywhere else. I guess it’s a must see in Poland, because it plays a huge part in the recent history and culture of the country.

2. PIEROGI

When I went, the whole menu was (obviously) in Polish, so my friend kindly ordered for me my first taste of Polish pierogi – the third Polish food on my list. Pierogi are essentially dumplings, which you can fill up with a really wide variety of things. This first time, Tomek adviced me to get pierogi filled with blueberry sauce and topped with cream, which I decided to couple with a couple more filled with cheese instead. Here’s a really badly taken picture of how they looked:

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Next to them you can see a glass of something which – to this day – I am not sure what it was. Tomek’s friend ordered it for me and I just drank, but I’m fairly sure it was something like blueberry juice (which I guess complimented the pierogi quite nicely!). The dish overall was really good, although perhaps a bit too sweet for me (I am a fan of bitter and sour tastes), which left me feeling really really heavy haha. As a first try though, a definite success!

When in Krakow, I decided to give it another try and went for a slightly saltier version, filled with spinach and feta cheese. Pretty fucking good. Notice the complimentary chunk of butter in the middle for an extra dose of healthiness.

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3. ZAPIEKANKA

My favourite one yet. When in Krakow, I decided to venture on the Couchsurfing hangout section to see if anyone was up for a chat and a little bit of exploring in the city centre. I eventually made plans with a Brazilian guy and his girlfriend for the afternoon, so I decided to spend the morning in Kazimierz – the Jewish quarter – in the meantime. When I told the guy where I was headed, he said I absolutely had to try something called “Zapiekanka”: a bread-like base filled with mushrooms, cheese and any other topping that you’d like. Apparently, the ones served in the Jewish district are “the best in Poland”, so I knew I had to do it.

….

I was not disappointed.

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If you get to the main square of Kazimierz, you are welcomed by a number of market stands enveloping a circular building full of street food shops. All of them are selling Zapiekanka, so take your pick and choose the one stand that inspires you the most! Personally, I just chose the first one I saw and the one which had the most interesting menu. The options are endless: tomatoes, spinach, peppers, double cheese, double mushrooms, any kind of sauce to top it up. In short, the place to get fat.

The stand I picked was called Bar Oko, and I decided to try out the number 4 on the menu, called “yummy” and sporting cheese, cream, spinach and tomatoes, topped up with some herbs for extra flavour. I also didn’t realise there was a small and a big version to choose from, so the street vendor decided for me and gave me a big one, which turned out to be absolutely massive. As in, over two times the length of my hand.

MASSIVE.

But I ate it.

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I liked them so much that I decided to come back one more time before leaving Krakow, this time going for a slightly lighter spinach and feta cheese combination instead (I really like this combination with Polish food, I just realised..).

P.S.: Apologies for the bad picture, turns out spinach and feta cheese are not as photogenic as tomatoes unfortunately.

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4. OBWARZANEK

Next up is something which I’ve been told in the comments is called Obwarzanek, sold on every street corner of Krakow in big quantities. It’s sort of like a bagel shaped thing, which you can either get in its basic form, with seeds or cheese. I don’t know if there’s any specific shop or stand where they make good ones, so I literally just went for the first one I saw on the street. The price for one is shocking – at least to a foreigner – as it doesn’t even come up to 50 pence and is a respectable, filling snack to have at any time of day. Pretty sure you’d have to pay at least 2 pounds for this delicacy in the UK..

Either way, I decided to go for the cheese option because I really hate seeds and because I really love cheese, and it was pretty nice if a little bit dry. Would definitely have it again though: it’s a really quick and easy snack to have when you’re on the go, available pretty much anywhere in the city and cheap as fuck, so a definite yes from me! Hashtag skint student.

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I decided to munch on mine as I walked from the city centre to the river, on the hunt for the geocache featured in this video by Damon and Jo (which I eventually found – hurray! Thanks D&J). I walked down Krakowska – snack at hand – and was welcomed by a series of vintage and second-hand shops which seriously tested my self control, as I had no luggage space at all for any kind of rash purchase on this trip (sadly). It was a really nice walk and I eventually ended up right by the water, where people were casually going for a jog or soaking up the sunshine (even though you can’t really see them in the pano – I swear they were there).

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5.0 OSCYPEK

After walking around Krakow for a couple days, I decided to get out of the city for a day trip to Zakopane, the ultimate Polish winter destination. Although I was told it’s best to go in the colder months, I still wanted to see this small little town and also enjoy a bit of Polish nature outside of the crowded Krakow.

One of the most traditional foods in Zakopane is Oscypek, handmade smoked cheese which is sold on every corner of the town. Aside from tasting really good, the actual shape of the cheese is aesthetically gorgeous and looks pretty much like this:

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(credits to https://belalumo.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/postcard-polish-smoked-cheese-brussels-travel-photographer for the photo which I failed to take)

You kind of feel bad for eating it. Although I didn’t buy one of my own (I couldn’t cope with a whole chunk of cheese to myself and didn’t want to keep it in the bag), a kind lady in one of the stands decided to let me try pretty much every single type she had in her basket – which tasted delicious – so I can tick that off my bucket list.

If you’re ever in Zakopane, definitely try it out! Aside from being a very traditional food, it’s also good to help out the local economy in any way (even though I technically didn’t.. oh well).

6.0 PLACKI ZIEMNIACZANE

On my way to Gubalowka – Zakopane’s famous hill overlooking the whole town – I decided to try something which was described to me as a “potato pancake” but that I found out to actually be called placki ziemniaczane. What a mouthful just to try and pronounce that, am I right? 😅

The thing was bigger than my hand and cost me 3zl, the equivalent of less than 1 euro / pound, and filled me up for hours. I mean, I climbed up a hill after eating it and still I wasn’t hungry not even after that. Definitely a bargain, if you ask me.

My photo is not as nice but trust me, it was good. I love potatoes and I love fried food, and this one was so deeply fried it was crunchy, which my fat soul loved. Hehe.

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To make things even nicer, I walked up to a church in front of the fast food place to eat it and was welcomed by a wedding ceremony as well, which together with the sunny weather made the setting for my healthy lunch just perfect.

… Maybe not as perfect for the newly wed couple having an Italian dressed like a tramp stuffing her face with a pancake in the far away background, but hey ho.

7.0 VEGAN BURGER

Being a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for good meatless options to try. Feeling the need for something more elaborate, I googled vegan restaurants in Krakow and came across a place called Vegan Burger, which apparently is one of the best vegan places in the city. After a long day of walking, I got back to the hostel at about half past ten and sadly discovered the place closed at 11pm, hence my desperate run across Krakow to get there before they shut the doors. I was lucky enough to get there at 10:55, tired and breathless and hungry as fuck. Although they were already cleaning, they still let me order one last burger (they must have seen the desperation on my face) to take out on my way home, which was a miracle. Being in a hurry, I decided to quickly go for the thing that sounded nicer and ordered a vegetable mix topped with mayonnaise sauce, which was ready in under a minute (they really wanted me to leave).

The picture is not as nice but trust me when I tell you that burger was out of this world.

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I ended up eating the thing in less than two minutes in the main square, accompanied by a refreshing cigarette and live music playing in nearby streets. Honestly, the best kind of way to eat if you ask me.

8. WEIRD SHAPED ICE-CREAM

On my last day, I decided to take a morning tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, a 20 minute ride outside of Krakow and apparently a tourist must see in the region. After begging the hostel guy to book me an English tour instead of an Italian one, to stay away from my loud compatriots, I finally set off on my last Polish adventure.

After the tour, I was once again starving (no surprise there), so decided to try out the ice cream they sell outside the mines. To be honest, it didn’t look remotely close to the Italian gelato I am used to, but I was hungry and happy to try out their touristy version. I ended up with a massive, two-coloured ice cream to eat within 5 minutes, before my bus back to the city departed from the parking lot.

There’s not much to say about it, but I thought I would throw it in as it’s something that I haven’t really seen anywhere else – despite it being so basic.

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So, that’s all for my Polish food tasting! Not a lot but then again I had breakfast at the hostel every morning and not enough time to have proper meals every day, so that’s all I got. Hope you enjoyed reading about it, if you’re ever in Poland definitely try some of these – or all of them – because they’re worth it. Trust me.

If you have tried them or have any suggestions for the future, please let me know in the comments! Would love to hear all about it. 🙂

Now go and have some food.

And have a great day!

Elena

A TRIP TO THE GoMA

You know how New York City has a world famous museum of Modern Art, always advertising the most interesting exhibitions in the world while you are lying in your foreign bed wishing you were there to see? Well, I will have you know Scotland tried its best by having its own version of it, except this time it’s a Gallery. The Gallery of Modern Art. Which is not the same at all but I like to think so because of the similar name.

The GoMA is located in central Glasgow – more precisely in George square – and welcomes tourists with the most infamous helmet-wearing sculpture of the Duke of Wellington. Fun fact is, the traffic cone obviously was not part of the original sculpture, but despite the city council’s numerous attempts at removing it, a new one always managed to appear overnight, leading them to eventually give up the fight. Ironic thing is, the traffic cone has now become a major unofficial symbol of the city and loads of travellers photograph it everyday. Now don’t say you don’t wish you were the person who put up the first traffic cone on that fine lad’s head.

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Funny stories aside, the GoMA in itself is a really cool place that I have actually visited in the past, as Glasgow is not far from Aberdeen and my passion for art knows no boundaries. It’s really easy to access, it’s free and you can easily spend a whole afternoon there. On top of that, exhibitions always change – as they do in galleries – so each time it’s different. This one episode, I was supposed to meet my boss in Glasgow (the story of this will come with a later post), for a meeting which eventually lasted less than an hour. That left me with most of the day to explore the city a bit more and, since it was cold and rainy, I decided the GoMA was my best bet to spend an afternoon in peace and quiet.

The ground floor was centred around film maker John Samson, in the first museum exhibition of his works. In youth, Samson was deeply involved in movements of protest, later on taking up writing, art and photography and entering a bohemian circle of artists and musicians in Glasgow. This was accompanied by a keen interest in society, the underlying issues and realities that affect our lives and marginal, emerging forms of art of the time. He produced clips on tattoos, the sex lives of disabled people, locomotives, latex in a nutshell, creating an array of seemingly unrelated topics which somehow presented a sense of unity in their peculiarity.

Now as some of you may know, I really like fashion. That does not mean I read magazines or follow trends – in fact I am the last person on earth you could ask that to – but I just really like the idea of a piece of artwork coming to life through you. It’s portable art, really, and I love that. On that note, a great part of this exhibition was all about the 80’s and 90’s in London, including the new forms of fashion that characterised those times. You can probably see how that intrigued me.

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The introduction of latex as a textile was explained, with different interviews highlighting a need for change – something at the time deeply unsettling for normal class people. Cool stuff really.

Upstairs were a bunch of different exhibitions, from photographs of the Western Hostel – where homeless men in Glasgow lived – to handprints of artists belonging to Surrealism and related movements such as Marcel Duchamp. One that really caught my eye was Hito Steyerl’s Abstract – a 7-minute series of clips dedicated to friend Andrea Wolfe, who died in Kurdish war zones whilst protesting against the PKK. The clip is aimed at the weapons manufacturer whose products most likely killed the artist’s friend, denouncing a society which condemns conflicts whilst at the same time feeding them.

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(Abstract – 2012)

Overall, it was a great way to spend the afternoon and get to know a bit more of our world. Art is a silent but loud form of speech, it can open your eyes to realities you either did not know of or chose to ignore. Seeing first Samson’s exhibition, dealing with unspoken truths about the London life of the time, as well as Steyerl’s cry against a hypocritical society, have the power of making you extremely aware of the world you live in and the issues that affect it daily.

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If you’re ever in Glasgow, make sure to pay a visit to the GoMA, and check out the brochures at the entrance of the gallery as they usually have more info on other exhibitions in the city or the wider Scotland. If you have a bit more time on your hands, another Art museum I love in Glasgow is the Kelvingrove, which however was way too big for the short amount of time I had. The building is an absolutely massive chunk of history sporting historical exhibitions of science, nature and everything in between. It’s a more traditional way of spending the day, as the GoMA is all about modern art instead, but I swear I could get lost in that building and never get out!

That said, I think it’s time to wrap up this artistic rambling. I hope you guys found the most interesting – maybe informative – and hopefully you’ll get to see the GoMA for yourself in your next trip. Who knows?!

Hope you’re all having a lovely day,

Elena

Flat hunting in the ‘deen

Life update: I am officially back in Scotland. I say officially but it really isn’t, seen as I don’t even have a place to call home yet. My friend and I landed on the British shores on a mildly cold Monday evening and have been trying to find ourselves a flat since, which is proving a rather extenuating activity as well as a mentally stressful task.

In the meantime, I have had the chance to drastically improve my couch surfing skills, as I hopped from a friend’s couch to another waiting for the day I would finally have my own (which alas is not today – currently writing this blog post curled up on a friend’s sofa indeed). I got dramatically ill on the second day I was back, which if that isn’t a sign Aberdeen is not the place for me, then I don’t know what is. I missed two friends’ parties because of the illness, which in truth were the only two things keeping me from going insane, causing even more desperation on my side. I finally had my mac and cheese at Wetherspoons after months of craving it, which was one of the few really amazing things that happened this week – more specifically on my first night back as I couldn’t wait any longer. I also had garlic bread with cheese once again – because why else would you be in the UK if not to eat unhealthy food containing half a year’s calorie intake – which unfortunately proved to be a rather disappointing experience as I chose the wrong takeaway shop to get my first one from. My garlic bread reunion has been officially ruined.

However, the good thing about being back is the fact I’ve been able to reunite with a few good friends, which soothes the pain in my heart and makes me realise Aberdeen is not as bad as I remembered it to be. Flats prices have decreased as well, making it a bit easier to accept living here as it’s finally not as ridiculously expensive. This also gives me the chance to plan a few trips to Europe during the semester, in order to escape this madness for a bit and try to complete my 2017 resolutions.

The biggest news of this week is that I finally got a placement, which means this semester I won’t be going to uni as I will be an intern at a small Glasgow-based company. The role is quite challenging and is putting a lot of pressure on me, but at the same time I am extremely excited to be doing something productive with my life and most importantly to be gathering some useful work experience in the field. I have also been allowed to stay in Aberdeen whilst I work, making it easier for me to find a flat with a friend but also making it incredibly sad at the prospect of having to work from home most of the time. I will literally have no reason to ever leave the flat in the morning now. It’s official.

Overall, it’s been a stressful week with a lot of news, so thought I would give an update and show the world I am still alive. Hopefully I will have a flat by the time I post a new entry! In the meantime, have a great day everyone and enjoy your cosy flats – you really are lucky to have one.

Elena