All posts by My Beautiful Places

Kenya – Nairobi: start of journey

The sun had almost completed its journey for that day. Just another one for it and an unforgettable one for me. It had nothing but the seize of a palm left to shine light and as I looked around, towards the huge umbrella acacias, I thought: if only I could stay like this forever, with my zebra print bracelet made of camel bone on the left wrist and the red beaded one from mama Masai on the right, with the image of the three lionesses resting in the golden grass, by the palm trees near the swamp, the 24 elephants crossing the path in a cloud of dust, the sleeping hyenas and the hypos in the swamp of Amboseli….

The savannah was like this: complete.

I wrote these lines a year ago, watching the sunset in Amboseli, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro with its white peak of snow, at the end of a 7 days safari in Kenya because I wanted to be able to read it after and feel what I felt then: completeness. 

27 days before

A safari in Africa was always a dream that seemed to big. Or should I say too expensive. After I came back from Puglia, Italy, in August, I was wandering online, looking for my second trip of last summer. It was when I found out about an event I did heard before, one of nature’s great wonders, The Great Migration, how it’s called the world’s largest migration of wildlife. Over two million animals migrate from Serengeti, in Tanzania, to the greener pastures of Maasai Mara, in Kenya. It’s the wildebeest who set the start, followed of course by other animals. I remembered my reaction when I read on a website the animals that was guaranteed to see in each park. Lions were called abundant and guaranteed to see in Mara. It seemed a marketing line at that moment…

I bought the tickets 20 days before the departure and what followed was a marathon of emails and messages to a significant number of tour operators. Some didn’t answer, some were starting the conversation from 4000 euro for 3 days of safari, others had packages of 10-25K. I soon found out Kenia is not a cheap destinations when it comes to safari, but absolutely doable if you work enough to plan the trip. So I meet Rachel, the one that at the end of 37 emails in a week had me as her customer. I started from a 2 days safari and she got me sent the advance for a 7 days safari: Masai Mara, Amboseli, Nakuru.

The plan was done, the reservations made, my safari wardrobe bought, plus a telephoto lens for my camera, the vaccine for yellow fever checked, the visa obtained. After the 7 days safari, I planned a few days on the coast, in Diani beach, close to Mombasa, for some relaxing beach time. Kenia was already giving me butterflies like no other destination before. 

Arriving

After a few hours stop in a hot like hell Doha, I arrived in Nairobi at midday. The airport seemed a lot smaller than others I’ve been before in Europe or Asia. My name written on a sheet of paper at the entrance was what I was looking for. Josea was my driver from the airport to my hotel. I was so excited and talkative and we became friends very quickly and by the time I reached the hotel we had the plan for that day. He needed extra money for his girl that needed a heart surgery in India and I needed to see Nairobi with a local.

A 3m high concrete wall and an iron gate opened when we arrived. Three men with riffles came out and check the car, only after we were allowed to enter. I was going to find out that this is common in Kenia for places destinated to tourists. 

– Hello sister, was the salute that made me smile so many times in Kenya. Welcome to Nairobi! First time here?

Kibera – o glimpse on life in the largest urban slum in Africa

I felt immediately as I landed in Nairobi what it feels like to feel different because of the color of your skin. As soon as I left the airport, I saw no other white people on the streets, in the cars, in the shops, in the markets. It felt strange. 

Josea and I we drove on the streets in Nairobi center that looked as if it could be placed in any other country: tall buildings of offices, large boulevards, parks, fountains, busy crossroads. Then we left the central area and continue until a sea of rusty roofs appeared out of nowhere.

Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya,
Top view over Kibera, Nairobi

I was curious to see it the moment I read that there were walking tours organized there. Tours for white people in clean clothes to see the black in extreme poverty. As if we all don’t have our poors in our own cities in every single country on this earth. But as a friend who came back from Mumbai once said, their poverty is more of a poverty then ours. 

Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world and the largest in Africa is home to, some say 1M, others 1.4M, Josea said almost 2M  Actually, a look from the above tells the truth: only God can know. 

Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya
Street in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya

A fact is that 60% of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, 4.4 million people, live in low income settlements, meaning slums. They occupy occupying 6% of the land. So 60% on 6%. There’s no need of Communist ideology to see this gap is too deep and too dark. And so was the life in Kibera the day I was there and all the others that followed. Poverty can’t be described and I won’t even dare to try it. It can be seen but will continue to be never understood by those who were offered more simply by birth. Because one with a full belly will never understood the one who’s starving. 

I left ashamed towards the people in Kibera we drove by that day. Ashamed because it’s not fair. I didn’t leave the car and took no photos except thiese on the street we first entered the area. 

Kibera, Nairobi, Africa
Kibera, Nairobi

After I went quiet, as the street got more and more narrow and I saw the cobweb of streets that were only accessible by foot and that went deep into the heart of Kibera, from which I stole images of faces and little fragments of life scenes. I was just a passing view of a car with a white woman that day. But for me it was a thousand of perspective changing images. The start of a lesson offered by Africa, a place it’s impossible to come back from the same as you left.

Nairobi for tourists

The Giraffe Centre, established to protect the endangered giraffe that is found only in the grasslands of East Africa, a place where you can feed the giraffes, was just closing. As we left, a warthog was crossing the little alley to the parking lot. This was my first encounter with the African wild life and got me head over flip-flops excited. Josea was amused by my reactions. Next, he had to stop the car by the road for the second encounter: a tree filled with marabou storks. I crossed a heavy circulated road just to get closer to a gate where I could see them better. It started to look like the Africa I was dreaming about.

Giraffe Manor

My phantasy of visiting this place and see the giraffes sneaking their heads on the windows and chewing bites on the plates on the beautifully arranged table, stayed a phantasy. The place was accessible only for guests, which in perfectly understandable when you pay between 500-1000 $ for a room. Maybe some other time. As Josea started telling me about the fields of Mara packed with wild life, I instantly forgot about it. He took me after to a shop selling Maasai art. Those masks and mahogany sculptures were fantastic but all was very expensive. A great sculpture piece could cost up to 15k $. I bought my zebra bracelet made of camel bone there, for about 12$. The one I wore after in every single day of that trip.

Carnivore is the most famous restaurant in town. Opened since 1980 and included on the list of the best 50 restaurants in the world, the place is a heaven for meat eaters, with its all you can eat buffet and the huge round barbecue in the middle and a hell on earth for vegetarians. It used to be very exotic in terms of menu, in the past, until Kenia imposed a ban on game meat. 

It was packed with white tourists wearing safari outfits  and the gates kept opening and the armed guards kept checking on the jeeps bringing the guests for that night. It was nice but too Westerner for the taste of someone like me, too hungry for the Kenyan culture.

Dinner in Nairobi

Josea fulfilled my wish: we went for dinner in a local restaurant, “where he would go for good local food”. We entered a large covered terrace with white plastic tables and chairs. Nothing posh. All eyes turned to the entrance, to us. The clientele was entirely formed by locals. We stopped at the counter where a refrigerated display case was full with pieces of raw meat. I let Josea made the choice but as I saw him picking a piece of ribs with more bones then meat and not looking good at all, I started thinking that the biscuits I bought with me from home, for emergency reasons only, might be my dinner that evening. The meat was taken to the barbecue. I was so hungry… A lady came for the order and stayed for a conversation. She looked at me smiling as I was exposing all my excitement for finally being in Kenia, “to see the lions”.-

– When I see you people flying here from the other side of the world to see the lions, and I see them every day from my kitchen window! she laughed and made a move in the air with her hand while my jaw just dropped.

We talk and talk and my dinner was no where to be seen. I started reaching my eyes for it every 5 minutes. When a tall men carrying a large plate approached our table, with a big piece of meat on it that was so hot it was still frying, spreading a steam of barbecue all around, I fixed my eyes on it. He cuts it into pieces and the lady brings a few bowls with cabbage salad, tomato, pepper and onion salad and a plate with the African polenta as I named it, only their ugali is white not yellow. It didn’t look fabulous. The first bite totally changed my philosophy about food: it was the best, sweetest, juiciest, crunchiest barbecue I ever had. It absolutely confirmed all the rumours I have heard before about Africans the masters of barbecue. Those goat ribs in that evening in Nairobi were so much praised in all the stories I’ve told my gourmand friends after. We ate and talk and laughed and I knew that Carnivore couldn’t offer me that. It was the perfect start of a week long safari in Kenya.

Next: 3 days safari in Masai Mara

The Best Beaches in Europe or where to find serenity

The beach was the first place I went after 4 months of quarantine. That wide horizon, the endless sea where two shades of blue meet in the middle, far away, is the absolute definition of freedom. In normal times and even more in different times.

I’m not picky. As long as there’s a blue sea, waves, sand, seagulls and a breeze, that is my place. And my beloved Europe has so many of my places, my favourite beaches, each one for its own reasons.

I don’t make tops or charts or rankings or whatever. I make a list of some of my favourite beaches in Europe discovered and enjoyed in 11 countries.

Malta

The only place I was during one summer and went back the next one. The first place I did snorkelling and still consider it’s the best in Europe for underwater life. And the first place I started to do beach hopping: more then 3 beaches in one day.

First time I went to Ramla Bay, walked on the red soft sand and watched the waves as white lines on a cobalt blue sea, I called it my favourite beach in the world. I loved it so much I came back a year after.

Ramla Beach on Gozo island, Malta

The turquoise waters, the ideal swim from one shore to the other, the calm waters, the white sand and the schools of fish I was swimming with makes The Blue Lagoon the most exotic beach in Europe. And one of my favourite places to swim.

The Blue Lagoon, Malta

Croatia

A morning walk with medieval scent in Dubrovnik followed by a cooling swim and beach time on Banje Beach. The incredible blue of the Adriatic, where you can see your toes while swimming and the white sand many meters beneath, all framed by St John Fortress walls in Dubrovnik’s port on the right and fuchsia bougainvillea, huge aloe vera with 4 meters high flowers and palm trees on the left, made me wonder if this image truly exists.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, sea view, Banje Beach

Belgium

This place has much more to offer besides thousands o types of beer (the best in the world) and delicious chocolates. For a real cooling, head North until you meet the North Sea in Ostend. Mariakerke Beach, with orange sand and moody breeze where kids run barefoot even in winter months and where cold is not felt. And where the best mussels with fries are served in all restaurants on the long promenade.

Ostend Beach, Belgium

Italy

La bella Italia is always a good idea. You can’t go wrong anywhere you’ll head. Rapallo, Portofino, Santa Margerita Ligure, Camogli, Amalfi, Capri, Cinque Terre, Polignato a Mare in Puglia… choosing a place – that’s a hard choice. I had the best swim in Marina Picola, in Capri, with the hypnotising Med blue and tens of yachts around, the scent of pine and the tztztztz song of the cicadas.

Marina Picola, Capri, Italy

Or should I call it the fanciest, on the island where people drink champagne in the port and on all the other terraces and the restaurants with white pianos behind translucent voiles moved by the breeze gives the island a heaven feel. I was so spoilt in Capri!

For a swim with a view in Italy, I can’t possibly decide between Amalfi, Positano and Manarola, in Cinque Terre. Swim away from the shore in any of these places and admire the breathtaking views of the coast, with coloured houses, all that la grande bellezza.

Amalfi coast, Positano, Italy

France

One of my favourite countries for all the reasons in the world, France, has one of the top summer destinations in Europe. The French Riviera, like its neighbour Italian Riviera, is a must go anytime. Though I consider Saint Tropez overrated, maybe because I was there without a car, helicopter and yacht, Pampelonne Beach beach has a few things to say to beach lovers. As the absolute playground for the rich and famous from all over the world, Pampelonne Beach has been the epicentre of glam, sparkle and shine ever since the 50s. Literally, this beach is a legend that has seen many stars on two feet wandering around. C’est chic et c’est cher (chic and expensive) but it’s totally worth a swim and a beach stroll between Nikki Beach and Club 55. Sante! (Cheers)

Pampelonne Beach, St Tropez, France

From St Tropez to Cannes, passing by Cap d’Antibes, Beaulieu sur Mer, and up to Monaco there are plenty of places to enjoy some quiet time or some loud time. One I will always remember is a swim from sunset to full moon rise in Nice, by the famous Promenades des Anglais. For that and much more I will always vote for France in summer.

Netherlands

Beach lovers are of many kinds, but two categories are the main ones: those who like to just lay on the sand all day long and do nothing more exhausting then sipping a lemonade and those who, the moment they see water, their heart starts pumping harder and no matter the outside temperatures, the sea is their playground. Scheveningen, the seaside resort close to The Hague, with its long sandy beach, an esplanade, a pier, and a lighthouse, is the playground for water-sports lovers that come here in great numbers for windsurfing and kiteboarding. No matter the season, it has the beach vibe I need after some time spent inland.

The Hague beach, Scheveningen

Greece

When it comes to summer love and beach addiction, Greece is a top destination in the world. Sail there until you find its beauty, that where white houses meet the dark Mediterranean blue and where the breeze whispers legends of the Gods among bougainvillea pink flowers pouring down on white walls, where the therm instagrammable is defined and where each corner is made for a beautiful framed memory. Where my roots are coming from and where, hopefully, I can fly again for a few days until this summer ends.

Santorini, Oia, Greece

For me, Santorini is the representation of all I have ever dreamed about Greece. Not the ideal Greek island for beaches though. The Red Beach is curious but looks dangerous, with rocks ready to fall down on your head from the steep wall of rocks above. Perissa Beach on the other hand is lovely, with its black volcanic sand that gets so hot it burns your feet.

Portugal

From the sweet Porto wine and Fado music heard on narrow colourful streets in Lisbon in a hot August afternoon, to the fairytales castles up in Sintra and then down to its fabulous Algarve coast, with hidden beaches and the white houses in Albufeira, I carry Portugal in my heart forever. My favourite coast in Europe for the highest number of beaches and the most spectacular. Close to Lagos, Praia de Dona Ana is one of the most photographed but my most favourite is Praia de Camilo, with its 93 stairs down to a gorgeous beach.

Praia do Camilo, Algarve, Portugal

Close to Albufeira, one of the most picturesque beaches on Algarve coast, Praia da Marinha, with yellow sand, calm waters and with striking colourful cliff-sides and rocks raising up from the blue Atlantic waters.

The best is Praia de Benagil, a beach inside a cave accessible only by sea, with turquoise waters touching the golden sand, two entrances from the ocean and an open roof with views to the blue sky on top. This beach is spectacular and will blow your mind.

Braia de Benagil, Portugal

Portugal is the place I would go back 3 times every summer. And winter, to watch the best surfers in the world coming here to Nazare, on Praia do Norte, to ride the big waves and break the records. The biggest wave ever surfed till now happened in November 2017 in Nazare: 24,38m.

Spain

Spoiled by the sun with long summers and caressed by the waves of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Spain was my first summer destination abroad. On Playa del Duque in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, I was stunned by the exotic beauty of the place. Then brought back to reality by the Atlantic waves, never before seen so strong, making fun of everyone entering the waters, rolling people over the beach. I got sand deep into my soul after those whirlpools and laughter to remember a lifetime.

Tenerife, Playa de las Americas

On La Barcelonetta I felt the vibes of a beach between the sea and the city and on La Malaguetta the magic of Costa del Sol (Sun Coast).

La Malagueta Beach, Malaga, Spain

I caught the last days of summer in September, right before it leaves Europe to move to further places on the beaches of Marbella and walk the Golden Mile from Puerto Banus to Marbella, 7,6km by the sea where you can lay your towel everywhere you please.

Puerto Banus, Marbella, Cost del Sol, Spain

I got stung by a Moon jellyfish and thought I just lost a finger judging by the stubbing pain. But it didn’t stop me an hour later from trying SUP for the first time in a sea full of those purple nasty creatures.

The best shades of blue and the softest sand meet the crazy parties at night and day in Mallorca. If the beauty of its beaches won’t get you drunk, for sure the alcohol cocktails drank from plastic big buckets will. Don’t try it unless in a large group.

Marbella, Arenal

Romania

Enjoy the silence in the wild, among cormorants and pelicans, in the middle of a bird’s paradise on one of Romania’s well kept secrets, Sfantu Gheorghe (St George) beach, formed where the river Danube ends its journey through 10 countries and meets the Black Sea. A beach in a delta gives a new sweet and salty and amazing perspective.

Sfantu Gheorghe, Delta, Romania

Iceland

If July and August in Europe seem too hot and some want to escape the heat and find a cold refuge in the North, the land of fire and ice, Iceland, has the place: Diamond Beach.

Diamond Beach, Iceland

A black picture perfect line of sand decorated with small icebergs and pieces of 1,000 year old ice calved off from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and washed away into the Atlantic freezing waters. It looks just as phenomenal as sparkling diamonds on black velvet. Maybe not ideal for a swim, but I guarantee it’s one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve seen.

Copenhagen: Hygge & 10 little big secrets

The Friday

I smelled pot. Not like in Amsterdam but strong enough. In a few meters I saw where the smell was coming from. The street I entered was full of dealers with small stalls improvised where piles of different types of dry marijuana were waiting to make someone happy.

– Come, wanna try? It’s good stuff, come try and see. Here… said a loud voice.

I ignored the invitation. If I didn’t know I was in one of the safest capitals in Europe, I might have felt very insecure in that underground area. Was just one of the colourful sides of Copenhagen.


When there’s an avalanche forecast and terrible weather in Lofoten, Norway, good old Europe has always a treat to offer for a freezing weekend at the end of January. I got the ticket three days before the flight.

A chilly Friday morning in a city with deserted streets after the cold winter rain. The kind of welcome typical for the North that I so deeply love.

The icon, Nyhavn

With very little preparation since it was a last minute decision, I decided to see the city by going with the flow and see what happens. I took my camera and left the room from the hotel near by the Central Station. I took a cold deep breath before what was to be a whole day long walk, my favourite thing to do when I’m away. I followed the flow of people, passed by Tivoli Gardens, City Hall Square, Rådhuspladsen and found a pedestrian street that seemed nice to walk, filled with stores. I later found out it was the famous Strøget Street, one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, of 1,1km, also one of the most high-profile streets of “København”.

When a student doing a poll among those looking like tourists asked if I liked the city and why, I replied I still don’t now, it’s been 2h only. But I already felt I will.

I was quickly convinced a few meters in the front, where I smelled something delicious coming from on oven. I was hungry so I entered the place and bought a Kanelstang, a cinnamon rod. It was a bakery with an impossible name: Lagkagehuset. The next second I thought why didn’t I know this exists?! This famous, old and very traditional Danish delicious pastry, I’ve learned after, a cinnamon twist but much larger and cut in slices, is a wonder of taste with two types of filling, vanilla cream and cinnamon filling. From that moment I’ve found my obsession in Copenhagen and every day I had 2-3 slices, even bought a few pieces for home.

In King’s New Square, enjoying my street food lunch, a hotdog, (another reason why I like Northern Europe), I watched the sky getting clear and the rays of sun enhancing the colours of Nyhavn, the symbol of the city. A picture perfect view in a place where you’d wish your stroll to be a never-ending one.

Nyhavn, best of Copenhagen, Denmark

I continued by the water, in a quiet area, crossing a bridge and arriving in a place where the Nordic architecture, perfect in its minimalism, was at home. I crossed a street following the indicator for the place I was searching for. A few steps further another world has opened: old buildings, abandoned warehouses with rusty walls covered in graffiti and impressive street art murals, little streets with cosy little eateries and bars – Freetown Christiania. An autonomous anarchist district and most hippie neighbourhood in Denmark’s capital. Placed in a once abandoned military base, where in the 70’s a group of hippies broke down the barricades and declared the place as their own, completely independent of the Danish government and laws. Since then it stays like this. Nowadays 1000 people live there, by their own rules, once published at the entrance: “Dear friends, There are three rules in the green light district: have fun; don’t run—it causes panic; no photos—buying and selling hash is still illegal.”

Christiania, free town in Copenhagen

The so called Green Light District was that day ,as in most days when the police is not coming for a visit that ends in multiple arrests, covered in a cloud of pot smoke. Some were selling, some were buying, many were smoking. Everywhere. All in the open. In spite this taste of freedom, cannabis is illegal in Denmark and  consumption, possession and selling will get one in prison if caught. If…but until then, freedom gets translated here is disobedience.

Besides the dizzying clouds lifting up in the air, over the roofs, the place is also known for adopting a way of living that discourages consumerism, mass production and many other sins of our modern world. Here those are replaced with a slow living garnished with its benefits: hand crafted products, bio foods and the serenity of those 1000 living far from the madding crowds working 9 to 5 and more to pay for what they, and myself included here, don’t even need. After all, Christiania has a strong point, besides being a controversial commune.

The blue hour in Nyhavn is magical. Has so much of that charm from the old times. As the lights in each of the coloured houses are turned on, the guests occupy their tables in restaurants, voices and laughs and kitchen noises begin and the scent of delicious meals fill the air of an almost there Friday night.

Nyhavn restaurants, Copenhagen

A light cold drizzle fell over the streets, the roofs and all those people wandering the city just as I arrived back at my hotel.

Learning Hygge in Copenhagen 

Meeting new people is one of the best things that happen when traveling solo. So I got an invitation for a late drink that I accepted.

– Happy New Year!

I raised my eyes from my tom yom soup, in the Thai restaurant across my hotel where we met.

– It’s almost February, for how long are people going to continue make this wish? I said amused.

– Exactly why I said it.

It was almost midnight and I didn’t feel the next hours vanishing. I had a lovely night, with great company, conversation and beer, in a bar decorated as if for one main purpose: to explain to foreigners the principles of hygge concept. From the warm atmosphere as we entered the place, completely hidden in dark, with the only source of light from the white candles placed on black tables or by the large windows facing the street, were rare passers by were moving as shadows in the dark, to the low nice music. The minimal design inside, with simple yet smart chosen pieces, cozy pillows and candles everywhere, still maintaining a diffused light, was the perfect picture of the famous Danish way of life that took in recent years the world by storm, with books, classes and masters promising to explaining basically how to live slow and enjoy the moments of peace. Hygge is about enjoying the good things in life with dear people around, lighting a candle in a long cold winter night, have a glass of wine or movie. Candlelight is hygge, cosying up with a loved one is hygge, relax is hygge….

– What we are doing right now, this is hygge. Now you understand it.

By the end of that Friday night the drizzle stopped, the streets got empty and I have learned hot to pronounce the word HYGGE like Danish do. Somehow similar to the English word “hiccup” .

The Saturday

I took a long walk in that cold sunny day. Rød pølse (red sausage) from one of the the ubiquitous stalls selling hot dogs and kanelstang (cinnamon rod) from Lagkagehuset for my Danish breakfast.

Strøget Street was entirely packed with people, Nyhavn even more. The normal Saturday mood in any European capital, busy and madly crowded. A waiter was cleaning the tables outside the restaurant opened in the former St. Nicholas Church, just in case the sunny day will encourage anyone to eat al fresco. The oldest church in town is used now also as a gallery for a contemporary art centre. In the North, this kind of metamorphoses of churches is not rare.

I continued my stroll from Amalienborg, the home of the Danish royal family where the serious guards were the subject of tourists thousands of photos, to Kastellet, a star shaped old military fortress, with the near-by beautiful Anglican church St Alban, built in grey stone, with a high spire and gorgeous stained glass windows. I couldn’t decide which side is best, the one facing the green park, next to an old tree, or the one by the lake behind it. With its peace and green in the middle of winter, the white clouds mirroring the lake, this place is probably my favourite in Copenhagen.

St Alban's Church, Copenhagen, Denmark

Langeline Park for a little stop and then another long walk, by the sea, to Copenhagen most photographed stop: The Little Mermaid, inspired by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up immortality in the depths for the love of a prince on land. The rays of sun right before sunset were penetrating the heavy grey clouds and the little statue in bronze, caught in the middle of the scene, with the sea as a background, like the celebrity of the city, which indeed she is. It took me about 20 minutes to get a chance to take a single photo without having many people by the statue.

Copenhagen, Denmark, the mermaid

Known as the oldest and most beautiful street in Copenhagen, there is no wonder why  Magstræde, with its coloured old houses and cobbled pavement is the most instagrammed, photographed, shared, posted and liked. Little adorable shops like one in the basement of an old building, with baby blue wooden old windows, where a woman was creating arrangements made of dry flowers while I stoped in front that pretty window and couldn’t stop watching her, the bar with in an old library, the shining old silverware shop. I went up and down the street a few times until blue hour covered again the city.

Snaregade and Magstræde street

I waited 30 minutes for a bubble tea inside Tase of Taiwan just because I got convinced by the line in front. I got taro milk tea just because it was purple. And just because I wanted to try something new, I discovered my next crush. I fell in love with the taste of taro.

Tivoli, the 176 years old amusement park, right in the middle of the city, was closed for guests in those days. To see it just a little bit I entered through a restaurant, then access the terrace outside, facing the park. With cold hands in a freezing windy evening, I sipped my taro ice bubble tea in the most dreamy winter wonderland….of fake snow. The park was being painted in white for Winter in Tivoli, an event meant to bring the white winter in a city that so far that winter have seen no snow.

– In my first winter here, 8 years ago, it was snow starting November and lasted a few months. In recent years…global worming…and now, this year, no snow at all.

Was the answer to my silly question: does it snow in Copenhagen. Sure it does.

I met my good old friend from Nepal in a cozy 18th-century basement venue with ceiling beams: Puk restaurant. A place well known for the delicious traditional food it serves. We had the famous Smørrebrød, open-faced sandwich with rye bread topped with all kind of toppings, pickled herring, wild salmon, flæskesteg – Danish pork roast, Leverpostej – Danish liver pate, frikadeller – Danish meatballs and so many dishes in small portions so we can taste more. In the end, I felt like a balloon. but I knew the memories of this dinner will make me crave for it many times later.

We said fair well when the night was turning to morning, after 2 more bars and 2 more beers with long and pleasant conversations about Denmark, his life as a Nepalese in Copenhagen, about Nepal wonders and caste traditions and our more then 10 years friendship. I renewed my promise to visit his country. At that time we draw a plan for next year.

Nothing did I know in that weekend at the end of January 2020, with crowded streets, Saturday night out, dining in restaurants and so many travels on the list for the year that has just begun. That reality seemed forever. Copenhagen was wonderful in all means, was like a deep breath before a long dive. How much I now miss what I never thought I will one day: flying

Next: my favourite beaches in Europe.

Istanbul: the city I once fell in love with

7 years ago in December I found a cheap ticket to a new destination, a city I haven’t seen yet. I went with a friend and I had one of the best weekends in my life. This is how and why I fell in love with Istanbul, the city on two continents. The surprise city that got me from having no expectations to being thrilled, drunk and ultimately in love. With its cobbled narrow streets on a rainy day, its tasty food, its mosques and sound of prayers, the colours of the Grand Bazar, its nightlife and, finally…. one of its inhabitant. What else could I have asked from a city?!


15h in Istanbul

Any return to a city I love is pure joy and Istanbul is on top of that list, even for a 3rd visit. So a 15h layover was an opportunity I couldn’t miss even-though I had to pay the price of a sleepless night. After all, layovers are nothing but free visit and a chance to see more of the world.

At 7:30am Taksim Square was sleeping. The restaurants on the little streets around were all closed. And I was hungry and needed wifi and a place to leave my luggage for 10h. Anywhere this would be a challenge but not in Turkey, a country were hospitality is the way of living. One shy question to a waiter arranging the chairs in a restaurant and the door opened for me and soon the food was served and the wifi turned on. I left a big tip and multiple thank you.

Now getting rid of my luggage for the next hours. The only options I found online were either too far or closed. I got the idea to ask for information a person that could actually offer the solution, a guy in a travel agency. He got the idea and came with the suggestion to store my suitcase for 10$. Problem solved. I was now free as a seagull to wander the city until evening and discover new places or see again my already favourite ones. Some call it most instagrammable spots, I call them simply my beautiful places.

The Old Tram

In Taxim Square there was something I missed on my previous two visits in the city: Nostalgic İstiklal Caddesi Tram, shortly the Old Tram, that brings the mood of the 19th century straingt to 2020. You know it’s coming when the busy street gets empty in the middle. It’s fun to watch people jumping on its back and makes great photos too. 

Sultanahmet wonders

The heart of the city and one of the places that I could visit 1000 times and more and love it every time. I took the metro from Taksim to Kabataş and then change the line straight to Sultanahmet, in front of the gorgeous Hagia Sofia.

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Sultanahmet

For the first time, the line to enter inside the famous Blue Mosque was this time doable so I entered inside. Usually it’s a wait of at least 1h and a discouraging line. I walked barefoot on the soft carpet covering the pavement inside the dark interior where high stained-glass windows allowed little light inside, among worshippers whispering the morning prayers. 

Ohh the perks of being a morning person, which I will never be! The early hour got me inside a place I first time missed because I didn’t know about it, the second time I confused it with another but the 3rd one was the lucky one for Basilica Cistern, used in the old times to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople. Now used for great photos mostly.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Sultanahmet

As a bonus of the area are the colourful houses a few meters away from the entrance to Basilica Cistern, on Yerebatan street, just in case there is not enough time to go to Balat and Fener, famous for their rainbow like streets.

The Grand Bazaar

Wandering the little streets around the bazar until I find an entrance, playing this search and find game is one of my favourite activities in Istanbul and I do it every time I am in the city.

Getting lost inside it’s the next most favourite. Being one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 streets and more then 4.000 shops spread on an area of 30K m², the place is a labyrinth. It is huge, colourful and vivid. My favourite are the stores with hundreds of Turkish lamps. Enter inside one and feel just as dreamy as in a story from One Thousand and One Nights. Taking photos is forbidden but if you start with a conversation and ask nicely, they will allow it gladly.

The Grand Bazar, Istanbul, Turkish lamps

The afternoon found me in Eminönü, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Istanbul which also stands as the city’s crossroads. Probably my favourite area for expressing the very essence of the entire city in one place. A live photo as seen from the Galata Bridge, with its spectacular views to its iconic landmarks: Bosphorus Bridge and the Süleymaniye Mosque, with the boats moving up and down between the docks, the crowds wandering the streets from the Spice Bazar nearby and the seagulls singing their songs over the sea, people, mosques and bridges. An always stop to my favourite baklava place in town, discovered by chance during visit no 2: Acemoglu Baklavari. It’s totally worth risking a diabetes here once you decide how many types of sweets to try (J)

Istanbul desert, Turkish sweets

I took my box of treats and devoured them while walking on Galata Bridge, among its tens of fishermen reaching their fishing poles for the catch of the day. This street show is all about life in the old Istanbul, of past, present and future, for a long as the bridge will stand there and the sea beneath it.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul, fishermen

Karaköy

Men at bar in Karakoy neighbourhood, Istanbul

Located on the other side of the harbour, this is the place for funky cafes, cocktail bars mix, hipster boutiques, old family-run shops in Ottoman-era buildings tattooed with street art and graffiti, a veritable art gallery in open air. Galata Tower watches over with a restless eye since the 13th century until nowadays.

Karakoi, old Galata, Istanbul, Turkey,

My hours in Istanbul were blown away in the air by the Bosphorus breeze. Evening came with grey clouds of the forecasted rain for that day. I left the city sinking in a silent blue hour, spreading over the mosques, the bazars, the fishermen on Galata Bridge and all the other favourite places I have there. I wished I had another glass of wine with a view at 360 Istanbul, the bar in Taksim Square. Next time.

Next: Hygge in Copenhagen

Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and more

My feet were burning! A hot long day of wandering got me exhausted. I touched the sea and felt it as if it was a step to heaven. Cold and calm. I entered knee deep with a Hmmm whispered to myself only. The sunset light melted the skyscrapers on Corniche Street into liquid gold, ready to ooze into the sea. It was my long expected moment. And then I heard in the back, someone was approaching:

– Excuse me, please step out of the sea. Is forbidden after 6pm. I’m sorry…the law…

“Ohh, Abu Dhabi, don’t do this to me!”…


Almost midnight

A never-ending 3h night bus ride took me from Dubai to Abu Dhabi the night before. Finding a taxi driver that spoke good English, with no Indian accent, was the first big and good difference that happened in the second Emirates city I came to see: Abu Dhabi. He was from Uganda and my 3 Swahili words turned our conversation into a friendly one.

The second difference, a lavish one this time, was the 4 stars hotel by the sea in central Abu Dhabi I afforded. In Dubai that would have been a fantasy. Thanks to the late room service and the Indonesian restaurant downstairs I had chicken satay with peanut sauce and nasi goreng, Indonesian fried rice. What a dinner at 2am!

12pm

I overslept, damn it! Or my phone didn’t rang… Or maybe I ate too much to late…

I took a look at the hotel pool and fancy interiors and left. I lost more then an hour looking for an exchange office. After the posh Dubai, Abu Dhabi was just another city: large empty boulevards, a few fast food restaurants, shops with ugly dirty windows and an unbearable heat.

After sweeting 2l I finally jumped in a taxi and drove to the very reason of my visit there: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, ranked by travellers in the last 2 years as the world’s second favourite landmark, according to TripAdvisor, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. (about that one soon). A place I found about from Instagram….

After a 30min drive the white minarets of the Grand Mosque started to be visible and soon was clear why it is called Grand, cause it’s huge!

No entrance fee, all man and women were split in groups to the changing rooms. I wanted a burgundy abayas, a robe, those looked prettier, but I got a light brown one instead. Only two colours available to rent, for free as well. The garment had a hood so you can cover your head, which is mandatory inside. The rule is simple: no visible ankles or head. If anyone wants to wear her own clothes, no problem, as long as that rule is applied.

I then joined the row of hundreds of people going in, passing by the other hundreds getting out. When I stepped out into the light and all became suddenly bright white around, I know I have arrived to another beautiful place I so much wanted to see: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was sublime!

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The strong sun shining right above and the perfect blue sky made the whole place look like an Arabian Nights white palace. The details were gorgeous.

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The interior yard was surrounded by a no crossing tape so that no one could pass over the limit, on the mosaic forming large flowers spreading all over the white yard. There were special spots where photos could be taken, so photographers, instagrammers, likes addicts and others have all the conditions they needed for the perfect shot and the best memory.

Well that for a change was a struggle to me: I was alone. And I only wanted one nice photo of myself with the mosque large yard in the back. If possible no minaret getting straight out of my head. Simple? Nop! It took me an hour to get it and 7 people who tried. In vain. I got either an ID type photo, either one without my feet, one without my forehead, of course the one where a minaret coming straight out of my head, a few with my eyes closed and many on the move… I felt discouraged after all the options I could think of for how to ruin a photo ran out. I thank everyone for their (usually) one photo taken. The 3pm free tour was lost. I stood in a corner and admire the place. It was too beautiful to care about a photo. The photo opportunity spot I was sitting got empty, when a Japanese couple came. He had a camera. I thought I should ask him nicely for a photo, like I did previously with other 3 people carrying good cameras…. He accepted smiling. That’s a good start, some people look interrupted… I found my place. He made a two steps more in the back. Hmm…another good sign, not a close up photo this time, huh! He gave me back my camera and they leave before I could check the result. I never do this on the spot, my reactions can hurt feelings.

I catch them up in a few minutes, among the crowds.

– You take great photos, thank you so much. I love it.

– Yes he does indeed, isn’t it, his wife confirmed smiling.

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

He was one of those rare begins born with a natural gift for framing a photo. We changed a few words and they told me about another free tour starting in 30 minutes and what they saw during the previous one where they can enter inside the mosque.

It was getting late and after a wandered around a little bit more, I decided to follow the crowds and see the interior of the mosque without a tour inside.

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The interior was just as dreamy as the white yard, with the biggest chandeliers I ever saw.  After all, 545M $ for 22K square meters, about 4 football fields, do look fabulous, inside and outside!

Marathon walk on Corniche St

It looked like this beautiful! I almost destroyed my Havaiannas flip-flops rushing on the endless boardwalk, from Al Ain Palace all the way up to Corniche Beach, 5,2km in less then 30min. Passing by passers by, runners, playing kids, The Lake Park, and then Abu Dhabi Beach.

Sunset on Corniche street, Abu Dhabi

When my feet were hurting me close to an unbearable level, I arrived.  I crossed the beach, threw by flip flops on the sand and stop when I reached the see. What a feeling! It was too cold for a swim and too empty but perfect to cool away a hot long day. The beach at sunset looked fantastic, surrounded by glass skyscrapers on one side and the silver sea on the other, quiet like a hot day in the desert. I was happy there, all I had was all I needed. I didn’t even noticed the guardian:

– Excuse me, please step out of the sea. Is forbidden after 6pm. I’m sorry…the law…

So I found out in Abu Dhabi you can’t swim at sunset. That’s why there was no one in the water. The sea was cold anyway. I sit on the sand and admire the place and enjoy my peace and excitement: I finally was in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi, Corniche Beach

I left the beach when was already dark. I took a taxi and asked him for a good restaurant with local food. I almost wanted to kiss him 10 minutes later when I saw in front of my eyes 3 big letters: GAD. My favourite place to eat in Hurghada, Egypt was in Abu Dhabi too. I ate until I couldn’t breath any more and talked about Egypt with the waiter there.

I walked on Sheyk Zayed Bin Sultan Street that evening, happy I added a new country to by beautiful collection and more new beautiful places. That evening of January, with 28C temperatures, the streets were filled with people, the restaurants, the terraces, the bars, the coffee shops… The heart of the city was beating. The big world was there and I was part of it, me and my wanderlust, ready for my next flight. How I will miss that feeling of perfect freedom later this year.

PS: lesson learned – always check the check in conditions when I book a room inside the airport. I didn’t that time and it cost me tones of stress, 100 euro lost for another room, outside the airport and almost my connection flight for back home.

Next: one day in Istanbul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai – the desert and the city (Day 3)

An invisible sun lit up the horizon. Earth and Sky, soon that everything will be melted together in one shade of fire I adore, cut in halves by a straight line ready to explode: the far horizon. A sparkle slipped out behind the dark mountain silhouette, like a promise for more. I left the jeep and the cold air gave me goosebumps as my feet sank deep into the freezing sand. It didn’t matter. It was time for a rising sun. Time to welcome a new day….


5am

The window in my room was still dark. I was afraid to count how little time I’ve slept. Maybe 2 h and a yawn. Dubai was becoming the newest city to keep me awake, I thought, while making efforts to accommodate my sight and get dressed. Fast! 15min later I was out in the hotel lobby, where my friend, the Indian who’s shift was always during the night, every night, 365 nights a year, welcomed me with the same kind and joyful smile.

– Ohh…you can’t sleep?…

– I could’ve very well slept, but I have a sunrise to catch in the desert! I won’t leave Dubai without it! I answered him in a hurry, closing the big entrance door behind me.

There I was 30 min later, with three other Indians: the driver and another couple we picked up from the opposite side of the city, driving to catch the sunrise on the red dunes, leaving the city behind, still sleeping and still quiet. I thought then of another fact about Dubai: there are more Indians there then Arabs. It surely looked so from where I stayed. On the road I listened to those three companions talking about their India and the region there they all called home.

We stopped in a gas station after a while of running on a straight and empty road crossing the desert. Surprise for the fool of me: it was freezing outside! Damn it! Of course it was, it was in the desert! If only I haven’t had forgotten that slight detail…. With all the glam and spam of Dubai it seemed I lost my head completely. With nothing to do or buy, I got some candies from the store to sweeten my cold dark morning. At least it worked for that pain in the bum flu, a Christmas Eve present, that had followed me all the way to Dubai and was still bothering me with an awkward cough. I was struggling to keep it under some control and avoid weird looks by pumping sugar in my blood while constantly eating candies until my tongue hurt.

the wait….

From all the waitings in my life, there’s one I love most: the wait for the sun to rise. Living on the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains and high hills, where the sun rose bright and set even brighter, I was a kid that grew up without sunsets and sunrises. The once in a year occasions in summer when my family and I drove for 2 days to see the sea , set the ground for my eternal admiration for the sun in its first and last moments every day. It turned me into a sunset & sunrise chaser for life. One that fights sleepless nights, desert cold, chilly sand and more only to see that first sparkle of fire in the horizon and watch it growing until it becomes too bright to see. From the top of the large red dune, like a wave in a see of sand dunes, I forgot all but that: sunrise in the desert. Always fantastic.

Dubai, sunrise in the desert

riding the dunes

Sandboarding was not my thing. I tried it, got sand in my mouth and I was fine with it. Plus carrying the huge board all the way back on top of the dune, climbing it in a run on a moving sand was a hell of a workout at 6am. If there were no people watching probably it would have taken me the whole day. At least I didn’t felt cold anymore after. Next, please!

Our driver reduced the tire pressure, a manoeuvre meant to enable smooth movement over the dunes. And the dunes bashing started. First smoother and then faster and furious until my entire stomach was upside down. My front seat offered the best feelings of this crazy ride among waves of sand. A big like for it.

oh, not camels again….

Oh, yes! I was wandering how many times I said it was the last time…

– Did you ever do this?

– About 5 times in the last 2 years…. And I hate it, I then whispered to her, the Indian girl.

Her experience was much worse then mine, trying not to fall and break all bones. She had a zoophobia or animal phobia. Of all animals. So when my camel tried to scratch her cheek on the back of her camel, reaching her foot, this turned into a mix of hysteria and screams. It took a few long second to the rest of us, while her partner was repeating that she’s afraid of animals. Finally our driver saved the day and remove my camel away from her leg. Back home I have two good friends who are terrified of birds so this was no so uncommon.

the falcon

Falcons have eyesight eight times as sharp as humans. Peregrine falcons can dive at speeds over 300km/h. Seeing such a majestic bird imprisoned, with its eyes covered by the leather telwah, so it couldn’t fly, was heartbreaking to me. I know about speeches evoking country’s culture and history, the people of the desert traditions. But this is 2020 and entertainments from hundreds of years before can be also updated and creatures that belong to the sky will be better left where they belong: free.

We had breakfast in a Bedouin camp that looked like the scene of a long and loud party the night before. It was. Two women dancers still wearing their costumes crossed from one tent to another with sleepy faces and messed up hair. A few tourists came out blinded by the sun light and ran inside quickly. I took my plate and went outside the tent, sit down on a wet pillow and enjoyed my breakfast struggling to keep the cats away. The Indian couple joined me later, after he convinced her that the cats are harmless. It was such a nice morning in the desert and the sun was just perfectly warm.

the Old

The place was deserted. The 30+C temperatures of a hot start of January in Dubai have left the streets empty. The old limestone buildings, the narrow dirty streets in the back, the small shops and the merchants carrying huge bags had nothing in common with the city of Dubai that shone bright from just a few km away, across the river. Two worlds of the same city set apart from the very river that once gave life to a small fishermen village in these desert lands, the foundation of all that it is now.

Dubai Old Town, Deira

The Gold Souk, The Perfume Souk and The Spice Souk are now the pride of Deira, the most mainstream in the old town. Unfortunately most of the stalls were closed, but those still opened offered a clear view of the place. I politely refused all the invitations to get inside the shops filled with sparkling jewelries just because I knew I wasn’t going to buy any. Just because gold’s just not for me.

Naif Souk I found it by chance, looking for a bracelet for my collection gathered from all the countries I go. Two levels filled with shops selling everything from pashmina scarfs to colourful hijabs or cheap jewelries and frequented by locals. The only thing I found came in set with a matched ring. About 5$ each, I decided to take two. but  first.

– I promise you next year at this time they will look just the same! the merchant wearing too much Arab perfume said approaching. I did a step back only to get some air.

– That’s quite a hazardous promise at this price, don’t you think…? I like them even if they won’t last long.

– What phone you have?

And so I got the price I wanted using my good 4 years old iPhone. Never thought it can be helpful in negotiations. But in Dubai the image is everything and the phone is the financial business card.

coconut green, mango and sugar cane juice

….were the treats of my afternoon, enjoyed on a dirty street in front of a small fast food with 3 white plastic table in front. At one a large Indian family with kids, at the second an Arab old man was cleaning the dirt between its toes, leaving too much to see under his thobe.  Before seeing him I was sure that the poor of  Dubai where only Indian, Pakistani, Filipinos. I left the old Dubai live its live in Banyias Square and headed to the beach.

sunset on Kite Beach

A taxi from Mall of The Emirates took me straight to Kite Beach, when the sun was ready to hide behind Burj al Arab and soon enter the sea. I bought snacks and devoured them all on the beach, upset that I missed the chance to take a swim in Dubai and comforting myself that the water was too cold anyway. Indeed it was but I swam colder waters before.

Sunset at Kite Beach, Dubai

I walked all the boardwalk from Kite Beach to Jumeirah Beach and Burj Al Arab. Again Google Maps fooled me about the distances in Dubai that seem small online and you finally walk till you drop.

I couldn’t find a bus to get me to Dubai Marina. Instead I took a taxi and decided to get to Atlantis. The last hot spot on my to do list in Dubai. I just wanted to see the hotel up-close.

We drove from the roots al the way up to the top of The Palm. The taxi left me in the front, on the left side main entrance. What a difference compared to the old Deira I left only a couple of hours before. The beautiful architecture, like a palace from The Arabian Nights, surrounded by lush gardens with palm trees and frangipani is one of the luxury hot spots not just in Dubai but the world. And of course with many taking selfies in the front… I left The Palm and Atlantis like all mortals, by train, the one that crosses the island and I found out about only then, offering great views to all the leaves filled with villas of The Palm.

Dubai Marina, again

Dubai Marina view by night

For the third time I came to one of my favourite places in Dubai, I couldn’t leave without one last boardwalk stroll. After all, where else you get to see parked in line 3 or 5 cars that together worth more then 1M, or 2, or 3, if not here? I like the place for its mood of eternal holiday that few places manage to induce. I found wasabi peas in one market near by and finished the whole pack staring at the skyscrapers curtain of lights surrounding the Marina, thinking about the two handsome men dressed in immaculate thobs I saw before, by the beach.

And that was Dubai: recalibrating my expectations about what money can built, tracing higher limits between luxury and poverty and raising the bar so high when it comes to what entertainment a city can offer. Two sleepless nights and for long days let me discover my Dubai. From the serene desert to the noisy downtown, from the old souks to level 148 in Burj Khalifa, from Jumeirah beach to The Palm and Dubai Maria, it fascinates me.

I will come back for that missed swim in the sea.

Next: 24h in Abu Dhabi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai – All that money can buy (Day 2)

In a city that offers all that money can buy, it can be difficult to decide what you want and how to spent the most precious currency that exists: time. But I knew: my first helicopter ride. I will fly above Dubai.


Morning: High in Dubai

Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE

A breakfast with a view, Dubai Marina view. Not on a terrace, but a bridge. And not a real breakfast actually, but definitely one to remember. The day started like this, with dates milkshake and gazing at the grey curtain of skyscrapers mirroring their shapes in the silver waters where luxury white yachts slid up and down the Marina. Doing this cost me 30 minutes of my second day in Dubai.

12pm

The taxi dropped me in front of Dubai Police Academy, close to Jumeirah beach. A jeep was already for me at the gates, to drive me inside through the security zone. It looked like a highly protected area. I knew by the noise, minutes later, that we’ve reached the starting point: a white helicopter was just landing.

The preparation for the helicopter ride took about an hour, inside the centre, with a session of safety instructions and technical info, including how to get in and off the helicopter when it lands on land or water. After the theoretical part, waiting for my ride and watching other customers coming and going, I observed how the whole thing was happening. I’ve noticed there was also a second helicopter operating, a black one that landed later. That looked so cool, I instantly wished my ride will be with that one. There were 5 seats in a helicopter, so only one seat in front, near the pilot. A kind of VIP seat… No matter the colour of the helicopter, I thought, I just hoped I won’t be sitting on a middle seat…. Seeing people leaving and the expressions of thrilled they had when they were landing back was not just fun to watch, but also increasing my impatience.

Finally my turn came. Me and 3 other girls were forming the group. The white helicopter was on the helipad, waiting for the next group. We were waiting in line and I thought that one it’ll be ours… And then I heard the noise. The trees outside started moving. The black one was landing back and the white helicopter just took off. I heard someone from the security telling us to wait in line inside.

– You’re alone so you’ll be sitting in the front, he told me.

These were the words I wanted to hear after paying almost 200$ for a few minutes ride. I was so happy.

The next minute my hair was blowing all over my face as I approached the black and cool helicopter. I took my seat in the front with a smile reaching from one ear to the other, that got even bigger when I laid my eyes on the so very good looking pilot: dark haired, with a short beard, wearing a pilot uniform and a fab smile.

Dubai, helicopter ride

– Hi, welcome! And there we were, all 5, ready to fly up in the sky.

I got the headset on, receiving the last indications from the security stuff as they closed the door. I heard the noise increasing and felt the moment we took off, leaving the ground, going up and up until the cars got smaller and the highway above became a line beneath us. Seen from the sky, the distances didn’t seem so large and the map of Dubai started imprinting on my mind. The Palm and The Atlantis, Dubai Marina, then we turned right and headed towards downtown, where Burj Khalifa was guarding the city from its heart, the middle of the skyscrapers that look tinny compared to the 160 levels sharp structure. It was a clear day with great visibility for this mind-blowing desert city where this is a rare gift.

Dubai, downtown, Burj Khalifa

The views were spectacular. We were communicating through the headset and I was the one asking questions: how close can you get to the downtown and Burj Al Arab – not very unless you have a permit to land there, where was the famous Kite Beach. Then we turned back, flying along the coast line, Jumeirah beach, Kite Beach and then Burj Al Arab, half a circle around the 7th stars hotel passing a little over the legal limit of distance for helicopters that are not landing on its helipad. We saw again the huge The Palm, the man made complex of islands forming the shape of a palm tree, we saw The World, the artificial archipelago of 300 islands laid out in the Persian Golf in the shape of Earth’s continents.

Dubai, The Palm, aerial view

Two more breath takes and we were heading back, getting closer to the helipad, ready to land. I was thrilled! It was worth every scent and choosing Dubai for my first helicopter ride was a great idea for the unique landmarks.

At the end of the ride, as we step out the helicopter, a few cameras jumped in as if we got famous while up there in the air. Then I found out our memories came with a price. I took the cheapest version, 2 photos (only) for 50bucks. It wasn’t allowed to do any photo shooting around the helicopter but of course I got my selfie with the pilot up in the sky 😉 In Dubai, even memories come with a price.

3pm

Afternoon: Man made miracle  

Another taxi dropped me an hour later in front of Miracle Garden. I wandered among structures of all shapes, from a castle to a plane and cartoon characters, all made of flowers. With 28C, the garden smelled like summer, the January summer in the Golf. This place is another superlative of Dubai: the world’s largest natural flower garden, 72K square metres with over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

In the middle of the desert, open for visitors between November and March, before the burning summer temperatures start turning all into dust. My battle here was a classic one for single travellers: obtaining 2-3 decently framed photos that, as an exception, will include myself. An exception because I prefer the photos of beautiful places with no people in the picture, an achievement that in most places takes a lot of patience. But the biggest challenge when traveling alone is people’s natural gift for ruining a photo. Of course, many of my friends are too in this category but at least I can ask nicely for a new try and help with indications. With strangers, that would be rude…. I can talk a whole day about these funny yet annoying fails that happened to me, like for ex. the best panoramic pic of Dubrovnik where my feet were cut off or the one with the RIP Blue Window in Gozo, Malta, (now gone into the see) where the natural monument, the window, the reason of the photo, was cut in half… Still, I never give up and eventually I get the photo I want. And so I did in Miracle Garden, though people were swarming everywhere at that hour.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

 

6pm

Evening: At the top

45 minutes of waiting for a bus that didn’t come change my plans for saving some budget using the public transport. I jumped in a taxi to get right in time in Dubai Mall, for my VIP entrance for At The Top of Burj Khalifa at 7pm. I got the ticket the day before, from an open office I saw in the mall, where people were waiting in line. I thought that must be the place. I almost had a heart attack when I heard the price: almost 100 euro. My credit card was in pain. Only long after I realised IT was a good deal, because most people go to see level 128. My crazy pricey ticket offered priority access and the chance to see Dubai from level no 148.

We were about 5 people in the line: two Russian women, beautiful and very branded, a French couple, both very tall and good looking, him looking more young. And myself, this time dressed for a helicopter ride + a drink in the highest lounge in the world, so nicely. On the other side, for normal tickets line, tens of people were waiting.  We entered through a separate door after they checked our passes, the stuff repeated the check later.  In a hall a long line of people were waiting. We passed by them and went further. It felt nice that VIP status. I very soon realised Burj Khalifa is not just a huge building of 160 floors, there are 160 levels of luxury and the most perfect finishes, the contractor save no penny when it came to materials and designs. It’s spotless from what I’ve seen this entire private property where the only access is through the mall, buying a ticket, or the main entrance if you have a reservation at one of the restaurants inside.

We took two elevators and in seconds we were at level 148. From the moment the doors opened, it is jaw dropping. The lounge is small but cosy, with scattered light, candles and orchid as decorations. The closed balcony that surrounds the place offers views that makes you feel you’re on top of the world.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, downtown Dubai by night

 

It was getting dark and I think it was the best moment, to see as the blue hour turns into night into millions of lights from the skyscrapers beneath and the multitude of highways and boulevards. What a city, indeed! I had to admit, I was impressed. An ambition made reality but with a good dose of good taste and elegance. I admired the views and I just couldn’t get enough.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, Dubai city lights

Level 128, crowded and closer to the earth seemed quite ordinary after I finally decided to leave level 148. I didn’t even wanna take many photos. The best part here was that the water fountain, the Dubai Fountain started the show of lights and music and seen from above it looked gorgeous.

Due to the large number of people, the place feels very touristy, compared to the laid back and spoiled mood from the previous level. A souvenir shop covers most of the place, where the price for a box of chocolate gives you ideas that it might be gold, leaving a little room for an interactive floor made of a screen with image of the city above that cracks under people’s feet as they step on it.

I felt overwhelmed enough and I wanted to leave. Hundreds were forming an endless line to the elevators. Oh God, I will sleep here tonight… I thought. But my 100 euro ticket saved me, the VIP guests had priority using another elevator, smaller and faster. Suddenly, adding this too, plus the whole experience, those 100 euro I payed for didn’t hurt any more. I’m glad that just by chance I made the best choice.

9pm

Dubai Fountain was playing the moment I got out the mall. With people filling every single place at the tables around, with waiters from the restaurants running with plates filled with dishes, with crowds gathered around Burj Khalifa lake, the music, the water jets up the sky, the night sky with the moon watching down to us. When the show of water and light stopped, the lake was completely covered with little lights, as a replica of the sky above.

11pm

The day was done, with every minute from morning till night spent so perfectly – Carpe Diem. A summer night mood was filling the city with its warm breeze. In this city of so many worlds where all that money could buy has been build, created and raised from the desert sand, I wished I had more… not money, but time.

Next: Dubai day 3 – sunrise in the desert, Old Town, Jumeirah beach

Dubai – Best of fancy on a budget (Day 1)

Three days in Dubai proved me wrong. All I’ve been hearing about this fancy desert city is true. After three days and 3 nights all I wished for was more time. I considered it artificial, too fake and opulent for my taste. Then I saw the best of Dubai and fell for it.


1.1.2020

Al Fahidi neighborhood, at my first glance that late afternoon, the first one in 2020, didn’t look like the Dubai I imagined. I woke up late after the exhausting NYE “adventure” the night before. It was curious to see Dubai by day. I draw the dark heavy curtains and opened the window to the little garden in front where a few dusty palm-trees were the only green spots on a limestone shade paint. On the wide vacant lot in front, in a cloud of dust, e few barefoot boys were playing football with a worn-out ball. Yalla, yalla (cmon) was all I could hear. A strong smell of frying hit me from what seemed to be the kitchen of the hotel, judging by the noise. I thought this must be a reason for the cheap price I payed for 3 nights in a city where New Years Eve makes hotel prices explode like its famous fireworks. But the room was nice, large, clean and the location was good, a few minutes walk to the metro station.

Behind the dusty palm-trees, the vacant lot and the hotel’s kitchen, the city was already up, ready to start a new year filled with life. The noise of the urban chaos was calling.

Spicy brunch

I love Indian food and I soon discovered I love the prices it has in Dubai too. Bhindi masala (dish made with okra) and chicken masala was the name of my brunch. A spicy brunch. I got totally lost in the tens of meals with names I could hardly pronounce listed in the menu of the first restaurant I saw on the street. The waiter stole me from the competition near by meeting me meters away from the entrance, in the middle of the crosswalk. I let him believe his strategy was a success when in fact my decision was taken the moment I saw the place with people eating on the terrace. At 2pm, 28C and a burning sun, coming from the freezing temperatures back home, I felt I will melt if I don’t eat fast. Though it was a hasty decision picking the restaurant, the food was tasty.

Dubai downtown

It was time to be wowed by my first day in Dubai! I took the metro and headed towards downtown. One thing no one told me about Dubai is that there are so many Indians, it makes you wander if that’s truly Dubai, UAE, Middle East.

When it comes to skyscrapers, modern architecture and infrastructure, Dubai gets all the 5 stars. And the downtown area stands as a prove for this. You could easily end up with a glazed look, mouth opened, eyes looking up the sky, among high structures of steel and glass. I admitted, it’s impressive but I’m not a fan of modern buildings with their cold minimal shapes. Burj Khalifa still is so high it makes you dizzy. It dominates the city like a crowned god of buildings. 163 floors. My apartment back home is at 8.

I hate malls…

“I’ll just take a look, it won’t take long… it’s just a mall.” It started like this. After 5h, dizzy and exhausted I couldn’t solve this mystery: where did all that time vanished?!

Dubai Mall, Dubai Downtown,

There are two reasons why I enter a mall, in my city, in any city: see a movie or get my coats from the dry cleaning. This was before I stepped in Dubai Mall. It makes The Harrods in London or Galleries Lafayette in Paris seem like two little shops. This place is not a mall, but a wicked city where you enter in the morning and leave at night, wandering where did all that sunny day disappeared. From the butler at the entrance, the welcoming ladies offering sweets, to the 1200 large stores on 502,000 square metres, this place is madness, a shopping industry by itself and above all, it’s a time trap. A very pretty one that has everything inside: a hotel, an ice rink, an aquarium where people can go for a dive among sharks and leopard rays of who’s existence I had no idea before, a VR Park, a lake with a water fountain, access to the highest building in the world from the largest mall in the world. Dubai seems to love superlatives. Shopping there is an true  experience. Benefiting from the large spaces, the brands have built stories out of their shops. In Dubai Mall the stores don’t just sell, they entertain and spoil. The prices seem a bit higher for a few brands I usually buy but it still is a shopper’s paradise on Earth.

Dubai Mall, Dubai Downtown,

From the Earth to the sky: Burj Khalifa 

Seeing the tallest building in the world right outside the biggest mall in the world, moving your eyes from its base and all the way up to its top, it’s really something extraordinary.  A blue huge pool in the middle of the desert, now downtown Dubai, stands for Burj Khalifa Lake. Why knot? If 218 millions where waiting to be spent. You can even take a boat ride in a traditional “abra”, probably the last reminder in that area of what Dubai was in times not that old: a poor fishing village. Right now the city looks like what all that money can built: artificial, as I used to consider it before, but so damn beautiful, as I was starting to see it.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, downtown

Souk Al Bahar, the drop of tradition

I found it by chance, just wandering around Burj Khalifa, trying to find its best angle for a photo with the entire building. Or almost entire… This modern and luxury Arabian souk on the Old Town island brings back the magic in a place made of steel and glass. I spent long minutes admiring the details of Iranian hand made carpets and testing tens of luxury Arabian perfumes in precious bottles. The prices were just as precious too, up to 600 euro. Ehh…Dubai, places like that make me feel poor. There’s too much you can’t afford right under your nose.

Dubai UAE, Burj Khalifa

The golden hour and the orange sun rays turned the city into gold as the night was coming. I felt overwhelmed by so much I’ve seen.

Dubai Marina by night

In this city with many worlds, Dubai Marina is one of them. A Western corner in a rich city. Skyscrapers, restaurants, shops, the beach and the promenade. I had in mind the image of the tall buildings reflecting in the harbour and I got lost trying to find it. I was exhausted and ready to go back to the metro for the 1h ride to my hotel when, I have no idea how, I found it:

If by day, iron and glass looks modern, by night it looks the best.

Dubai Marina view by night

The Frame of dreams

The two sides of the city, the old and new are framed by The Frame, another architectural landmark of Dubai. The name of this square building, called the biggest picture frame on the planet, reflects its shape, 150m tall and 95m wide. From my seat in the metro, at passed 11 at night, heading to the old (and poor I should add) side of Dubai, this day seemed like a fantasy. All the glitter and gold of Dubai gives a feeling of mixed realities, polishing all in happiness. But The Frame, no mater how big it is, can’t include all the 3.331 million stories lived each day in this city. My story, as a visitor fulfilling another destination dream, the story of the Filipino woman that was selling ice-cream in the mall, waiting for her dream, the stories of the rich and good looking of all races I’ve noticed on Fashion Avenue, living their dream…. and the stories of the Indian workers I saw right next to Dubai Mall, up high on metallic scaffold, working in construction on January the 1st, building their dream.

A dream city that is made of so many different dreams, that is the big picture of Dubai.

Next: Day 2 in Dubai: helicopter ride, at the top of Burj Khalifa and more

 

 

Dubai – New Years Eve on the beach

The great journey of 2019 has arrived to its last steps. A year that turned many of my bucket list wishes into great memories: 13 countries, 9 for the first time, 2 visits in my beloved Paris, my first African safari. 32 flights above the clouds. My all time record year as a wanderer was beyond expectations. And the last 45 minutes of 2019 didn’t disappoint as well: in a taxi, running on Sheikh Zayed Road, the 14 lanes highway, leaving behind Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and heading to Burj Al Arab, known as world’s only 7 stars hotel. I was excited, in Dubai. The very place where I wanted to be. The silhouette of the famous hotel was puncturing the dark horizon like an arrow.

As we got closer, I was too charmed by the white architecture of Burj Al Arab to observe we were driving now in a sea of people, all heading to Jumeirah Beach. The last 20 minutes of 2019: I decided to become a drop in that see of people dressed in white that will finally led me to another dream come true: New Years Eve fireworks in Dubai.

The rush from the hours before, when I landed in Dubai that evening, got me starving and thirsty. A few Indian samosas sold at a stall on the beach saved the night and a mango ice cream added the summer mood in December: it was my hottest NYE: 25C.

00:00 2020

Dubai New Years Eve, fireworks, Burj Al Arab

The fireworks were as promised: opulent, breathtaking and… long. Dubai, baby! A riot of colours surrounded Burj Khalifa, in the back but still visible from that distance, joined by the ones at The Atlantis, in the front, on the sea and in the middle, Burj Al Arab, right in front of me, became an explosion of lights and colours. The fireworks turned the sky into a paint contouring shapes of hearts and planets like Saturn. And down to Earth, for more then 10 minutes, thousands of heads were beating unanimously towards the sky and hands holding phones were turning the moment into memories and posts for family and friends. The last minutes of the show turned the night into day. A day of colours, sang the thousands with a loud whisper: Awww…. And this is how the first 10′ of 2020 had passed, vibrating of light and joy.

As the sky became dark and silent again, that massive crowd instantly broke into pieces that had spread everywhere in just minutes. Indian families with 10-12 members were continuing their NYE picnic on the grass in the park near by. A group of men were now opening bottles of champagne. Others were sending NYE wishes on the phone. Toddlers were suddenly too tired to walk. The party on the beach was over. After the Emirati people, the Indian families were coming second in therms of numbers. The rest, Europeans, Americans just a few of them, many single.

It was too nice to waste the night and just take a taxi and go to sleep at the hotel. I wanted a long walk on the seafront. The beach was hidden by darkness but even though I felt the sea was there, so close, blowing its warm breeze towards the busy road. I checked Google Maps and it looked encouraging, I thought that at the end of one hour walk I will get close to my hotel maybe. Poor me!

An hour later, the cars and the people became more and more rare. It was even better, I thought. Beautiful white villas with large balconies and tall gates covered in Bougainvillea flowers were so quiet. Some tourists at a crossroads were trying to get one of the taxis that now were very rare.

30 minutes later I checked again Google Maps. It wasn’t my poor signal’s fault then: after 1h and a half it looked as if I walked for 10 minutes. I decided to walk towards the closest metro station. Close on the map… In reality, after another 45 minutes I ended up on an empty street where only a few Indian people were heading God knows where. I could see the suspended metro line, which seemed a good sign. But when I reached a complicated passage with no sidewalk I realised Dubai was not a city made for walking. On the contrary, it was made for cars.

I had no idea where I was and it was too far to get back from where I came. I asked a few guys, Indian as well, for directions. One of them explained, very polite and nice. Then he wanted to take a photo with me. Burj Khalifa’s silhouette was contouring in the front, probably very far away considering its height of 800m. At one point I became exhausted, walking like running by some sort of factory, the kind of area where no one walks ever even during midday. And I was thinking at my grandmother’s superstition: “What you do on NYE, you’ll do the whole year.” For me that would mean walk till you drop and get lost.

At one point in the front I saw the first signs that I was somehow getting close to the downtown and walkable areas. And people. And as sent from heavens, I saw a taxi, I raised a desperate hand and he stopped. I was saved! Thank God!

So I’ve learned, the hard way, my first lesson about Dubai. It’s not a walkable city. The distances are a killer!

The next episode of my fancy NYE in Dubai was one hour being trapped on the great 14 lanes highway, Sheikh Zayed Road, the road that crosses Dubai from one end to its other, as long as the coast takes you. That was really smth: 14 lines of absolute and stand still traffic jam. “What you do on NYE, you’ll do the whole year….” was the mantra that kept playing in my head, accompanied by the cries of my taxi driver who was cursing the madness of that night, swearing that he won’t ever work for another NYE and concluding:

– People are crazy!

The second miracle that night happened just out of the dark. The car started to move and just minutes after I was getting close to my hotel, in . I felt like home!

At almost 5am I entered one of the restaurants opened, the one with the largest terrace. I had a great welcome. I needed a fish to secure my luck in the new year.

– Is it fresh? I asked inside, where I was invited to choose the fish that was going to become by early dinner.

The long minutes of wait and a confusion (I asked for a salad and I received a bowl of veggies and yoghurt) let to a fabulous meal: the fish was spicy, as asked, fresh, crunchy and it worked perfectly with my mistake salad.

At 6:30am my night was done and my day was beginning with a deep long sleep. I had to get back my forces to see for myself what was all the fuss about Dubai, so far the city that wasn’t made for walking.

Next: best of Dubai

 

 

Montenegro – views of Kotor and Perast

Where else can you wake up in one country, have breakfast in another and dine in a third one, without having to hop in a plane?! My beloved Europe…

We set off at daybreak, while Dubrovnik was still sleepy. Rain heavy clouds were delaying the morning, announcing what vacationers fear the most during summer holidays: a rainy day. 

We were a large group of people from everywhere with a too talkative guide for that early hour. And it was raining, having me wander how this birthday will develop. In spite of the wether forecast and the sky confirmations I had a 10 years old tradition to keep: every birthday spent in a new place.  

Perast – the town by the lake

Rain must have taken a breakfast break by the time we reached Perast.

view of Perast, Montenegro

The small town appeared like a beautiful surprise, surrounded by mountains partially hidden behind low misty clouds, mirroring its old facades and high tower in the calm lake. Small drops were still playing naughty as I first step on the sidewalk, by the lake. My first impression, as I walked away from the people to take a look, was that, there, in Perast, the melancholy of old times meets gracefully the peace of small villages built by a lake, where the freshness of mornings lasts till dusk. Perast was in that morning, at the end of July, a quiet retreat from the mad crowds of tourists. We were the first to cross the lake in small boats, towards the small island in the middle of the lake, called Our Lady of the Rocks, known by locals as Gospa od Skrpjela. A placed build by bulwark of rocks and sinked old ships loaded with rocks and raised from the waters of the lake by a legend. More then 5 centuries ago, in 1452, when two brothers, both fishermen, were coming back home and found an icon of the Virgin with Christ on the sea-cliff in the middle of the lake. They took it from the water and bought it home. Next morning, the icon was no where to be found. By wonder, it appeared again, on the same sea-cliff, so the brothers took it home this time too. The same unexplainable happened – the icon disappeared and reappeared on the sea-cliff. And so people of Perast understood this was s sign from above and started throwing rocks in the water until a small islet was formed where they built a small church dedicated to the found icon of the Virgin, the patron saint of seafarers and fishermen. And what can be better then a beautiful legend in a beautiful place…

Perast, Montenegro, Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Skrpjela)

The views from the island were idilic, with the small Perast and the mountains now cleared by a few rays of sun. The rain was gone for now.

Kotor – the OMG views

The road to Kotor offered amazing views. Montenegro was so gifted! The bay started contouring its shape, among mountains and small towns where tinny beaches were hidden like secrets known by locals only. It was raining again cats and dogs and everything you don’t wish in a day with plans like I did: seeing one of the most photographed places in Europe.

The first think I saw once I arrived in Kotor was… a cruise ship, a floating town that seemed as tall as the mountains around. Anyone knows that this means crowds occupying all the tinny streets of a small town. Even though the access of these ships is been highly restricted by authorities in Kotor, the tsunami of tourists descending from such an enormous ship at once is a huge challenge. I was so relieved I wasn’t a drop of that tsunami. I will never be, my idea of sailing and seeing beautiful places is the opposite of all that a cruise ship can offer.

In a day where every 30 minutes we had a pouring shower, I was already doing exercises opening and closing my umbrella. Such a useless object during the heavy rains.

We got a break from the rain in front of the Sea Gate, one of the 3 entrances in the old town of Kotor. The other two are River Gate and South Gate. The visit started with a nice to have tour of the main attractions inside Stari Grad (Old City) of Kotor and a local guide shared a few informations about the town that dates back to the Roman times, being first mentioned in 168 BC.  The Main Square (Trg od Oružja) of Stari Grad was the first we found, the moment we entered the gate. With an impressive Clock Tower guarding the place since 1602, this was the beginning of a trip back in time. If you’ll close your eyes for a sec, open them again after and try to ignore the way people are dressed, you’ll be right there, hundreds of years ago, wandering the already old streets of the town by the bay.

The tour with the guide was over so I was free to wander the town. A charming maze of cobbled streets opens from many points inside the Main Square and takes the wanderer to the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Kotor Cathedral), to the Bazaar, passing by old little churches, houses, shops. You’ll smile when you’ll get totally lost inside this labyrinth, cause for sure you will, and you’ll find, just by chance, the Cats Museum. Or a small passage that looks so picture perfect.

Kotor, Montenegro

The rain started again, right the moment when I was leaving the cathedral. So I stopped on its stairs for a well enjoyed episode of people watching. Minutes were passing and the rain has turned into a serious storm: wind gusts, heavy drops, curtains or rain, thunders and dark clouds. I wouldn’t mind it so much down there, but I had plans: the best view of Kotor can only be seen from the top, on the mountain behind the city, climbing the way up to Kotor Fortress. I was checking the time every 3 minutes, and the sky every 2 minutes, looking for a bright spot that could signal that the rain will soon stop. Nothing… and the minutes were pouring like rain drops. One hour was left before we had to leave Kotor, for good. I needed about one hour to go all the way up and then down and find the Sea Gate. The square in front of the cathedral was deserted, all the people have vanished, hidden from the rain.

Kotor Old Town, Montenegro

It’s now or never, I thought when I had the impression the drops were becoming lighter. The rain has emptied the streets, keeping people inside, but also turned the old cobbled pavement into a true rink where every step was a change to slip and fall.

I took a ran on the empty streets, asking for directions twice from a few shops owners. I found the gate, payed the fee while the man there was surprised to see someone would adventure there while it was still raining.

I used the narrow steps made of stones and build next to the wall, the only way I could walk there in my flip flops. I thought to go barefoot but I was afraid I could cut myself. Happily I meet only 3-4 people descending and I could keep using the steps. The slippery wide slope next to the steps was a no way, a guaranteed fall.

The last drops of rain have left the clouds whiter and the sky as now spreading a fresh light. Slowly the terracotta roofs became visible, a few more steps the bay started to grow, offering amazing views. It was a struggle to go all the way up on those slippery stones, wearing flip-flops, but I got there, at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. It’s half the distance to the Fortress but I was more then pleased. The iconic views of the Bay of Kotor developed in front of me, with mountains, heavy clouds, the Adriatic Sea, now like a silver bay contrasting the shades of the roofs. So Instagrammable perfect! I took my time to take all that view in, enjoy it to its every detail. Three people only were there besides myself. We owned the panorama. of the bay.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Then I said a prayer hoping I won’t break my legs on the way down and started the ordeal once again, grabbing the slippery stones of the wall and trying hard to keep my balance every time I met other people that wanted to go up using the same tinny slippery stairs. Thank God, I arrived back safe, with nothing broken, just a few scratches on my hand, probably from the wall and a slight muscles pain from the effort. But my memories were worth it!

Seeing the tens of people that were waiting in line to pay for the access ticket at the entrance was a relief. The rain had stopped so the crowds were now pouring again.

Passing by local tinny shops with treats like olives, dried figs, raspberry or blackberry wines or the famous rakija, the local distilled fruit liquor next to fish, prosciutto or many other cured meats and of course the mouth watering selection of by absolute temptation – cheese. I realised I was starving. I gave up to a slice of pizza and as if the the pizza boy knew everything, I got a huge slice covered in plenty of delicious cheese. A treat that made possible one last walk on the little streets of old Kotor, where thousands of tourists were now testing their balance on the slippery stones of the pavement.

– Did you manage to… oh nooo, you did it! But it was still raining…

My smile was saying everything about my walk above Kotor, the one I was asking about since the very first hours of that morning. I showed my photos to the group. The majority of people were discouraged by the rain and sane enough not to take that risk. But I got to see the view. I got to see Kotor. A place I want to come back, in a sunny day.

Next: Dubai and Abu Dhabi