Tag Archives: city break

How I survived 10 days in the Middle East: day 1 – Israel, Tel Aviv

I was lying on a bunch of pillows and colorful carpets in a big Bedouin tent, made of only a few high wooden pools and a black rough membrane of camel hair. Our host was making the food for us: pita bread, prepared on a piece of wood, right there, on the ground and cooked on a large pan heated above the fire in front of us, served with labneh (goat yogurt) with olive oil, dry mint and green olives. I was drinking my mint tea while talking to the Thay blonde young woman about how it took her years to get her visa and be able to visit her boyfriend’s county, Israel. There I was, in Israel, at the shore of the Red Sea, a stone’s throw away from Jordan and Egypt.

It was the 10th day of my holiday in the Middle East, my back was all sunburned, the skin of my hands was never that dry, my clothes and I were dirty and smelling like camel but it was the purest freedom and happiness.  So…who says Mondays are no fun?

How I got there, with a big smile on my face and memories for a lifetime?

10 days go, on a hot Saturday morning, I arrived in Tel Aviv. I received my 3 months stay permit after a series of question that lasted for about 10 minutes at the passport control. It was the Sabat, almost no one was working and the only way to get to the city was by taxi. I knew taxi sharing was common here and when Boris, a russian israeli taxi driver approached me, all I needed was a couple to share the drive with. And so we were 3 on our way to the beach front area in Tel Aviv, for 50 bucks, a good deal. Boris was so talkative and had no problem in sharing intimate details about him and his wife, but the word he pronounced the most was “money”.

I was tired from the 1 hour night sleep, thirsty and hungry when I reached my AirBnb room. The apartment was shared with two really nice guys and its location was ideal, right there on the beach, in front of Ben Gurion iconic statue representing the first prime minister of Israel in swimwear, doing a handstand on Frishman Beach. Summer was already here in Israel, though it was only the end of May, it was a laid back August mood. The beach looked perfect, with clean turquoise water, soft sand and packed with people, all tanned and fit and cool, singing or skateboarding, speaking all the languages. The large boulevard by the sea was full of rainbow flags as the LGBT pride was to be held in a week or so. The tall buildings in glass facing the Mediterranean sea, with fancy hotels or business centers were completing the image of a present, cosmopolit, and alive city which I did not expect to be this amazing.

Tel Aviv beach

After a slice of cold watermelon, one of the best I ever had, I was ready to explore a new beautiful place.

I started walking the promenade towards old Jaffa, where a friend have told me about a restaurant where they serve you 20 types of mezze on the house. That is something a foodie can never miss.

Yafo in Hebrew or Yaffa in Arabic, the ancient port that has stories to tell about Solomon, Saint Peter, Andromeda and Perseus, was the place I first saw the two big cultures, the Jews and the Arabs, separating and mixing each other. The old buildings with dusty antiques shops where an old Jew was selling hundreds of big old silver rings on a silver plate and the small street food restaurants where muslim man were selling pita bread and humus and many more, all had names in both Hebrew and Arabic. Al-Bahr Mosque (Sea Mosque) and Mahmoudiya Mosque with their minarets reaching as high as Jaffa Clock Tower, built of limestone, as most of the buildings I was going to see and live in the next 10 days. I wandered the empty silent streets of old Jaffa in the afternoon heat. It smelled like good fresh food, spices and oriental perfumes, and the light  notes of a song in Hebrew, similar with Greek music, reached my ears.

Hunger determined me to head to the port, a few minutes away, where I immediately notice The Old Man and The Sea terrace by the impressive number of plates on every table. And here I had an unforgettable food experience. As soon as I sit down, my table was covered with not less than 12 small plates of different starters, from humus, falafels, all sorts of salads, fried cauliflower + hot pita bread and freshly squeezed lemonade with mint. Again, this was on the house, for free, no money… Though this was more than enough, I had to order something and a big plate full of shrimps in garlic butter cream have joined the feast. It was more than I could eat but I did my best. It all ended with zalabyieh or lokma (deep fried dough soaked in syrup) and tea made of fresh mint. Incredibly tasty and on the house again. I thought I was in paradise.

After this feast was rolling towards Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv oldest neighbourhoods, a fashionable area with avant-garde design stores, handicraft shops, trendy and stylish bistros, white small houses and most of all full of bougainvillea flowers which I simply adore. While you wander its quiet street, enjoying the shade of trees in blossom and playing with lazy cats that are everywhere, indulging yourself in a cozy small village like atmosphere, when you look back you are brought back to reality by the view of tall shiny skyscrapers that seem to touch the clear skies.

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I was amazed by Jaffa, enchanted by Neve Tzedek, I was so satisfied after a gourmand fest, was wearing a new bracelet on my hand (I buy bracelets instead of magnets) and all I wanted more was to head to the beach for a swim. The water is perfect, I was told by Gal, my host and I thought we might just have different standards of appreciating water temperature, though I don’t mind cold water for a swim. I let my feet feel the sand for the first time this year and touch the waves of my beloved Med. It was close to sunset and Gal was so right, the water was more than perfect.

I ended a beautiful day on the beach in Tel Aviv, watching the sun hiding beneath the sea, feeling the warm salted breeze on my skin, with my feet hidden deep in the soft sand, not even realising how rapidly the city lights replaced the day. A couple of good conversations with locals about Israel and Palestine and how this place is now the safest on earth made me smile thinking of my friend how was here last year and told me the opposite.

The start of my journey couldn’t have been better and safer. And as soon as the sun was rising again I was to discover more, as I was heading the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and parts of Palestine.

To be continued… soon 🙂

My Top 10 Beautiful Places in Venice

I started writing this list in the first day of spring, in March, at midnight, when outside was snowing with huge fluffy snow flakes. From my window all was white, beautiful and perfectly calm. It was the last and so unwanted winter episode that made (almost) everyone crazy throughout Europe. I thought then it was the perfect moment to mind travel back to Venice, back to the Carnival madness and to my favourite beautiful places there.

I don’t know where time has flown away so fast. Now spring rules the cities and our livers with summer like temperatures, blue sky, blossomed trees and flowers scent in the air. Anytime actually is a perfect moment to remember Venice. Soo…

First, let’s agree something. On blogs, sites, forums are countless tops and lists of do that – and go there – and eat that – and you must’t miss… blablabla. My advice: read and ignore 80%. The rest of 20% that maybe you’ll consider nice to do, you’ll remember for sure. it’s a fact that no one can make a top appealing to everybody. So if you’re not into museums, with long waiting lines, but rather prefer to walk till you drop on the streets, you think shopping while traveling is a waste of time, you chase sunsets and panoramas and are never too tired for a late night walk, you are not afraid of getting lost, you are more likely to choose street food instead of restaurants and you simply can’t say no to ice-cream… than you might find some ideas for Venice:

10. The Carnival. There are two types of Venice: the one during the Carnival and… the other one. Make sure you get to see the first and take part at the feast, because true Venice is during those weeks, when the city goes wild and fancy. You will feel as a time traveler among all those people in costumes of counts and countesses. Buy a mask, wear it and dance in San Marco. I got mine, a beautiful black one, from Zago & Molin, for 15 euro.

Carnevale marks Venice

9. Best panorama in Venice can be seen in Campanile, the tallest building in the city. The entire lagoon, the Lido, the roofs, all under the majestic picks of the Dolomites.

8. A classic one never hurt anyone. So go for a gondola ride! Take it from Rialto Bridge, go behind one of the most famous bridge in the world and head to the narrow canals with small bridges. See Casanova’s house and enjoy the gondolier’s Italian love songs and   stories about the old times. The maximum of people is 5, so if you want to save some bucks, share the ride with other people and you’ll pay 16 euro each.

7. Have some fun getting lost. Venice is a labyrinth. Try finding San Marco without using Google Maps. Start, let’s say, in Piazzale Roma. It’s not so much fun getting lost while searching for a toilet. Been there, done that 🙂

6. Walk. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat. You’re in Italy, it’s pretty hard to have bad food. Well, I did but let’s just call it bad luck. Follow your instinct and maybe check TripAdvisor, if you don’t like taking culinary risks. If you like Neapolitan pizza, try Rossopomodoro, close to San Marco. For ice-cream addicts, Gelato Fantasy is the place.

5. Have a Prosecco at Caffè Florian in San Marco. Established in 1720, it is said to be the oldest café in the world. Imagine all the events that happened in three centuries. The place is not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. During the Carnival, when all the people wearing costumes gather in San Marco, it is an ideal place to admire them.

4. For those who enjoy the vibe, the colours and flavours in the city markets, the best place in Venice is Mercato di Rialto. And I guarantee you won’t leave without buying some fruits or food.

3. Find your quiet place. Escape the noise and find Calle Tranghetto Vecchio, a small dark street. Step into the light, on the wooden bateau bridge built at the end of it, facing a beautiful 180′ view of the Grand Canal. Watch the boats passing and enjoy the view away from the crowds.

The Grand Canal view

2. Midnight walk. Even during the busiest times like the days of the Carnival, you’ll own the city after midnight, when most of the people are already dreaming in their beds. Instead, you’ll live the dream. San Marco is now finally empty, quiet and amazing.

San Marco by night

1. Sunset on Rialto Bridge. This is my favourite view in Venice. The palaces, the Grand Canal, the seagulls and the gondolas, all in the orange sunset light. And if you feel like, take a waterside-bar break and enjoy a glass of Italian wine. Now that’s a moment you’ll always remember.

Now all you have to do is buy the tickets to Venice and have some great time in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

P.S. “Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.” ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The feast and the city that can’t be described: Venice

9AM, a rainy Saturday, the first weekend of February. Where would you want to be? I’m sure there are some great answers out there. But guess where I was: in Venice. I was just back from a trip to Northern Norway and the first thought that crossed my mind at 4AM, when the alarm rang, was: What the hell am I doing again? But wanderlust is a serious disorder so at 7 o’clock in the morning I was already flying to Venice, to live the madness of the Carnival once again. It was the second weekend of the event and 4 of my friends were already there.

It was the rainiest of days! 5 euro spend on a too small and too fragile umbrella, the moment I got off the bus, in the middle of Piazzale Roma and the rain, seemed the best business that could have been made that day, at the corner of the street. Wasn’t so, cause the wind was messing up with my investment and my new and useless umbrella was doing anything but protecting me from any rain drops. Mostly was making me crazy! And so, in the pouring rain, with a closed umbrella newly added to my baggage, I was crossing the large bridge build with ground-glass, leaving behind the ordinary real world  to enter Venice, a place that looks and feels as if a piece of the past have survived the present. And once I got right there, on top of the arch bridge, among the passers by moving on fast forward, the wind and rain teasing my face, I pressed Pause and stopped. It was too beautiful. The city was now revealing itself: so many bridges, paved small streets by the canals, the colourful buildings, the boats and of course the iconic wooden pillars raising up from the water. And I whispered for myself: Hello Venice, told you I’m coming back…

Rain seemed a minor challenge compared to finding the hotel. This was an endurance test since Venice is indeed a labyrinth. And since Google Maps choose the best moment to have errors of locating me, all I could count on was my poor space orientation. After crossing 6 bridges, walking in circle and saying a few curses, I reached the destination.

One hour later I was outside the hotel, on the large street heading to the centre, to San Marco.  I took a deep breath of the cold humid air. The rain had stopped but the streets were still almost empty. How scary rain can be! I was starving so I entered the first bar with the green TripAdvisor sticker on the door, dreaming of a delicious Italian focaccia. Inside, two asian ladies were busy serving at the bar. I thought maybe this was not a good sign but I didn’t want to be rude and leave. And so, politeness served me the worst possible sandwich: fast-food bun, mozzarella, lettuce full of water and tasteless tomatoes. But no way a sandwich could spoil my mood. And all I could wish for was to wander the streets, all of them. Hearing that my friends were busy buying Italian leather bags on sale, I couldn’t be more happy. So I could enjoy the city by myself. A bliss!

With every minute the streets were more and more crowded, people were coming out from everywhere, like mushrooms after the rain. I was walking straight on. The large street with tiny restaurants and stores on each side was now too small as the human wave was heading to Rialto Bridge and San Marco. Among the crowd, I started seeing the first people wearing carnival costumes, either couples or small groups of friends. Each time I couldn’t help myself to stop and admire. The noise was growing, bringing together talks and laughs. And so, without realising, I entered the Carnival’s atmosphere and I indulge myself in its magic.

Tight streets looking like secret corridors were escaping from the large street of which, all of us, strangers, were now part of. I managed to creep suddenly to the right, don’t even know why I did it. After a few meters of walking through the small space left between two buildings, in almost dark, I got to the canal and into day light. A wonderful 180′ view opened in front of me, just for me, as I stood there alone, for minutes, on the wooden bateau bridge. Boats were passing by the colourful buildings with beautiful windows, offering a postcard view of Venice. And there was silence.

I was heading to Rialto Bridge when something amazing just happened: out of the grey cloudy skies, the sun came out suddenly. I quickly went up the stairs of the bridge, among the crowd, running to get to see this view before the sun disappears again. And WOW, was indescribable! The view of the Grand Canal with all those gorgeous colourful venetian palaces, the black elegant gondolas floating slowly back and forth, the small restaurants by the water, the wooden pillars raising out of the water, the seagulls flying high and on top of all, the sun sending rays of light through a small window of clear sky in the clouds. It was sunset, one to admire and to remember.

As I was getting closer to San Marco, the streets were more and more grouped, smaller and smaller. I wandered each one I liked, letting myself guided by wanderlust only. Of course I got lost and of course I loved it. I crossed more than 20 bridges and walked even more paved streets. Getting lost on the small streets of old Venice, stepping from one to another and than another until you start recognising places, is the only way to really feel this unique place. There were people in costumes, wearing masks, everywhere you looked. Counts and countesses, dukes and duchesses, in velvet or silk, with lace and embroidery, with silver white tall wigs or large hats with big feathers, jewels and opulence. Masks were sold everywhere, in traditional ateliers or on market stalls, thousands of models, from 5 euro to hundreds.

This was not 2018 anymore. We were back in time a few hundreds of years before. If there’s a place where you can travel through time, that’s Venice during the carnival. And San Marco was the stage of the event, where all the magic characters of the carnival gathered to be seen, admired, complimented and taken pictures with. There was no other place I wanted to be.

Later, when my feet couldn’t take it anymore, I met my dear noisy friends in a restaurant close to San Marco and presented them with great pride the hand crafted black colombina mask I have bought from a traditional atelier, Zago & Molin. We all left the restaurant wearing our masks, ready for a Saturday night in Venice during the Carnival and many reasons to come back again.