Prima di partire per la prima volta ad Atene avevo ricevuto dei pareri terribili su questa città: sporca, pericolosa, brutta, un postaccio, non andarci! Ma si sa, io ascolto poco gli altri e ho voluto comunque passarci due giorni ad apertura e a chiusura del mio giro nel Peloponneso per osservarla di persona e da vicino. Al rientro sono andata da tutti quelli che me ne avevano parlato malissimo per dire loro che…beh…io l’ho amata tantissimo!
Per me è una città decadente, con uno spirito vintage ma proprio per questo la trovo irresistibile! Questo non significa che Atene non sia una città moderna, piena di ristoranti e locali dove far festa o semplicemente bere una birra e di spazi artistici innovativi.
Ci ho camminato a piedi per più di 20 kilometri in lungo e in largo e me ne sono innamorata: dalla zona di Plaka (l’area intorno all’Acropolis) alla mia adorata Monastiraki piena di vintage e fervente di locali e di gente a tutte le ore, sono passata per vicoletti e strade moderne cercando di viverla il più possibile e di respirare tutta la sua decadenza tra ferrivecchi e bancarelle di street food.
Ammetto che il mio primo pensiero arrivando ad Atene sia stato il Partenone e l’area dell’Acropolis: desideravo visitarlo da tanto e avevo già acquistato l’ingresso online in anticipo (vi consiglio di farlo perché nonostante fosse il primo periodo post Covid c’era moltissima coda all’ingresso). Mi ci sono recata al mattino presto in apertura e anche questo è un consiglio che vorrei darvi perché dopo pochissimo tempo non solo faceva un caldo pazzesco (era Maggio) ma iniziavano ad arrivare i primi bus carichi di turisti e godere liberamente di questo spettacolo pazzesco che è l’Acropolis con il Partenone iniziava a diventare complicato.
Se amate il genere vi suggerisco anche una visita all’Acropolis Museum che è pieno zeppo di meraviglie dal passato e anche un giro a piedi tra i negozietti intorno all’area dell’Acropolis (quartiere Plaka) per rilassarvi un po’ dopo la visita.
In questa zona si trova anche Al Hammam, posto meraviglioso per godervi un paio di ore di relax nell’hammam più bello di Atene dopo la lunga scarpinata tra le rovine antiche.
La mia area preferita di Atene rimane comunque Monastiraki per i suoi negozietti vintage, il mercatino delle pulci della domenica mattina, i suoi mille locali, la street art e la frizzante vita sociale a qualsiasi ora del giorno e della notte! In quest’area vi consiglio di girare molto a piedi e di perdervi tra le mille stradine piene di sorpese e di interessanti scoperte.
VINTAGE AD ATENE
La prima buona notizia è che Atene è piena zeppa di vintage. La seconda buona notizia è che la maggior parte dei negozi belli di vintage è in centro. La terza è che i prezzi sono molto convenienti quindi qui si può comprare!
Ad Atene ho trovato uno dei negozi vintage più belli del mio lungo peregrinare tra negozi e mercatini vintage per il mondo, un posto in cui mi sono davvero emozionata, cosa che ormai purtroppo mi succede sempre meno: si chiama Troc, è un po’ lontano dal centro ma facilmente raggiungibile in metro, ed è uno spazio enorme pieno zeppo di pezzi scelti con cura. Questo è un paradiso per gli amanti del vintage etnico e del vintage tradizionale greco e turco (questi pezzi sono un po’ più cari rispetto agli altri) e io ci ho perso letteralmente la testa. E’ gestito da un’anziana signora che seppur non parlando molto inglese prova a raccontare la storia di questo posto che è stato il primo negozio di vintage ad Atene nel 1976. Per me un posto imperdibile.
Altro posto molto interessante è Like Yesterday’s, tra vintage, second hand di marca e accessori è stato uno dei miei preferiti in zona Monastiraki insieme a King Kong Vintage non visibile su strada ma al primo piano di un palazzo del quartiere dove ho trovato una bella selezione di vintage anni 70 e 80 principalmente.
Più second hand che vintage vi consiglio un giro da Vintage Love e Treasure House oppure nell’amato dai giovanissimi Yesterdy’s Bread che pur non essendo esattamente nel mio genere ha dei pezzi interessanti tra cui segnalo anche haori e kimono vintage.
Ad Atene c’è anche un bel negozio che vende vintage al kilo e la cui selezione varia parecchio quindi coglie un’ampia clientela di amanti del vintage (piccola ma interessante zona dedicata al vintage etnico dove ho preso anche un bell’abito mediorientale): si chiama Kilo Shop Greece alla fine di Ermou.
Imperdibile il mercatino delle pulci di Monastiraki la domenica mattina: tra vintage e pezzi d’antiquariato vi assicuro che vi innamorerete di questo adorabile mercatino.
DOVE MANGIARE AD ATENE
La cucina greca è tra le mie preferite e ad Atene si mangia bene ovunque ma tra i miei preferiti c’è sicuramente Tzitzikas Kai Mermigkas dove abbiamo provato praticamente quasi tutto il menù!
Se volete una cena romantica con vista Partenone illuminato (solo lo spettacolo vale la cena!) vi consiglio di prenotare da Strofi (i prezzi sono un po’ più alti e il posto un po’ più elegante rispetto alla media). Da Dopios invece potete gustare i piatti della tradizione rivisitati in chiave moderna mentre vi consiglio un aperitivo da Brettos, locale storico favoloso pieno di pezzi d’antiquariato dal suo splendido passato.
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Caltagirone is a small town in southern Sicily, very famous all over the world for its handcrafted colored ceramics. Although I was born in Sicily I have never been there before but as my mom really wanted to visit it last summer we decided to have a one-day family trip to Caltagirone to enjoy the city.
Here are my top 6 things to do list if you decide to visit this lovely place one day:
The Cathedral: San Giuliano Cathedral in the center of Caltagirone is a magnificent religious building with a very old history. It was destroyed by several earthquakes and re-built many times. Its wonderful turquoise dome is very characteristic and it is visible from many corners of the city. Its inside decorations are amazing and definitely worth a visit.
Ceramic Museum: Caltagirone is famous all over the world for its ceramics and everywhere in town it is easy to see them decorating walls, facades and balconies of old buildings. The history of ceramics’ handcrafting is very interesting and you can have a clear idea of how it changed during the times in the beautiful Ceramic Museum. There are rare examples of different eras and a very detailed focus on the way it is traditionally crafted. You can also find here an amazing collection of the famous Moor’s Heads, typical Sicilian ceramic sculptures representing our ancestors (the Moors).
Santa Maria del Monte Stairway: this is the most famous corner of Caltagirone, the famous stairway built in 1606 connecting the old town with the new one. 142 stairs fully decorated with authentic ceramics from Caltagirone, it is full of plants and flowers and very loved by tourists and citizens. A picture here is a must of your visit!
Moor’s Heads: you can’t leave Caltagirone without brining with you the famous Moor’s Heads, representing our Moors ancestors’ heads decorated with fruits and other typical pieces of the Sicilian tradition, these pieces are a must have. You can find them in many colors and decorations but please be careful when you buy them. If they are too cheap they are not traditionally handcrafted! Moor’s Heads can be very expensive but the quality is absolutely different. Spend a bit more but get the real ones (the couple, not just one!). I got mine here after a long hunt but I am madly in love with them!
Granita: like almost everywhere in Sicily granita here is delicious! I had lunch with it (and a famous Sicilian brioche) in one of the bars at the entrance of the old city (in front of the City Theatre) and I was totally delighted (I got a pistachio one, of course!)
Magma Shop: last but not least I suggest a visit to my favorite shop in town, Magma, just near the Stairway. It is a very peculiar shop selling only handcrafted pieces mainly from Sicilian handcrafters. Clothes, accessories and homeware here are 100% handmade certified!
I am wearing a thrifted Moroccan caftan from Girls in the Garage, an handmade wax bag from Atelier Habibi and an handmade headwrap from Madame Ilary.
During our last lockdown, while scrolling on my Instagram feed I saw a picture that took my attention: colored yellow, white and blue houses that looked like Spanish or Tunisian. I liked at the point that I checked the geotag to understand where this lovely place was placed and, big surprise! It was located in Sicily!!
I couldn’t believe my eyes and I immediately googled the place: Borgo Parrini, between Palermo and Trapani, that was a real revelation for me! I added in my “Places to visit” list and I had the chance to go there a few months later, during my summer holidays.
But first, let me tell you more about this place: this small village near Partinico (also called the secret Barcelona) was founded in the XVII century by the Jesuits but it is now an almost abandoned village where only around 20 people still live. One of them was the entrepreneur Giuseppe Gaglio who, with the help of some other citizens decided to initiate a restoration of the abandoned houses to re-give life to his beloved village. He called Sicilian artists to recreate a Barcelona/Gaudi inspired village with mosaics, majolica and colored glass, bright facades and an explosion of colorful flowering plants.
The project started in the late 1990s and it took almost 25 years.
The life of the “Borgo” immediately changed since loads of tourists from all over the world started visiting this renovated village, pretty much loved for its colors and dreamy atmosphere.
It is more and more usual nowadays to use some “marketing ideas” to bring back to life many of the abandoned Italian villages and I must say that I think it is a great idea to restore our architectural and historical heritage and to give them a new life. And if this means also giving them a new life in terms of economy by bringing tourists and give space to more entrepreneurs, why not? Today in Borgo Parrini you can find a few pizzerias and a couple of bars and shops which was absolutely unthinkable a few decades earlier.
You can reach the village by car and it takes about an hour to visit (you can also enter the renovated houses for a few euros) and you can have a quick lunch/dinner and even enjoy the pomegranate “granita” handmade by a lovely resident who sells it on the main street leading to the center of the village!
It is better to go during the day to enjoy the bright colors and to take very nice pictures, but it seems that it is very suggestive also at night, coming back from a day at the beach or even in Christmas with its lovely decorations and a living nativity scene.
You can have an idea of how it looks like from my pictures but believe me, you’ll love it in real life!
I wore a vintage caftan found at Vinokilo in Milan with handmade turban (Mara Seyeyaram), a neoprene bag (Geometric Bag) and a pair of sequined flat sandals from Colors of California. Also, the lovely turban earrings come from Kano Sartoria Sociale in Sicily.
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If you visit Sicily, especially in summer, and you are around my hometown Messina, I definitely suggest a visit to the medieval town of Milazzo.
It is very popular as a summer destination for the beaches but also for its nightlife: when I was young I used to spend there my summer Saturday nights, in the tiny streets of the old town full of bars, restaurants and little handmade and traditional shops.
The upper part of the town is the oldest one and I find it very fascinating because of the rests of the medieval village, the castle and the fortified walls. You can visit several halls of the castle, such as the Norman tower, the so called fireplace’s hall, where in 1295 a sort of Parliament was hosted, the court and several parts built during the Spanish domination. You can also enjoy a beautiful view from there!
The lowest part is famous for its amazing beaches with warm and crystalline water, especially in the area of Cape Milazzo where you can also visit the natural Venus Pool Venus, a protected area where you can swim in the most beautiful sea.
When I was in Sicily last summer I had an incredible desire of going back to Milazzo as I was missing from more than 10 years: I was pleased to see that nothing has changed, except from the weather, as it was the most horrible hot day ever! I spent the day visiting the upper town with my sister before heading to Capo Milazzo to admire the view and then relax in a lovely beach in the afternoon.
Even if it was too damn hot that day I wore a vintage purple cotton dress from Freja Vintage (on Vinted) and a soft viscose large trousers handmade from Madame Ilary. I completed my sustainable outfit with a pair of leather sandals from Clarks, Gucci sunglasses and handmade and vintage jewelry. My wax bag is from a Senegalese handcrafter that I found through Alessia form Clementine Vintage.
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Going back to Dakar felt more like going back home for me. Senegal is my second home and Dakar is my second city (Milan is my third, even if I live here, if you were wondering!!).
Even if I was there a few years before it felt like many things have changed in two years: new buildings, museums, mosques, highways, Dakar is a very fast-pace-moving city and I was really surprised about the big changes in just few years!
It is a very crowded and noisy city but I can’t help loving it so much. I love it for its vibrant atmosphere, the music, the people, the colored car rapides (public buses – see picture above) I love it for being so modern but so traditional at the same time, always open to renovate, to look at the future without forgetting its past. Dakar is a city of art, museums, street art, probably one of the most interesting cities in Western Africa.
We arrived from the Lac Rose, not long after lunch which gave us some time to spend in the city before going home (real home, as I spent the last few days with my Senegalese family). The first thing I asked to see was the Rail station in the city center. Why? Because I madly fell in love with the decadence of this colonial building the last time and I read some time before that it was completely renovated. I was happy to see that the renovation did not change the vibes of this wonderful building (very art deco) that has a beautiful story to tell. I was also happy that my favorite basket crafter and the lovely Malian market were still there though!
We then moved to the second big news in town: the newly inaugurated (just a few weeks before) Mosque of Massalikul Djinaane, one of the biggest mosques in Western Africa. It took 15 years to be completed but I was in complete admiration of the wonderful rich decorations of this mosque, that we visited at the sunset where its colors were sublimated by the golden light. After this amazing visit I couldn’t be happier to finally see my Senegalese family after so long.
Even if the celebrations of being with my Senegalese family lasted until late, I woke up super early in the morning to take the boat to Gorée, an island that really took my heart the last time. I really wanted to go back there and this was maybe the only place in Dakar that did not change in the meantime.
Gorée is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, because of its symbolic role in the Atlantic slave trade although it is a bit under discussion in the history of the slave trade. On the island there is the House of Slaves (Maison des esclaves), built by an Afro-French Métis family about 1780–1784. The House of Slaves is one of the oldest houses on the island. It is now used as a tourist destination to show the horrors of the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world and its visit will not let you indifferent. I cried as a baby the first time, so did I the second one. The only thing that can make you stop crying is the beauty of the island itself, its breath taking views on the ocean, its lovely super colored houses, the warmth of the people, the many artists who live there, the rhythm of djembe. The memories that I have here are priceless.
I spent the morning on the island until lunch time, then I took the boat to come back to Dakar and to continue the visit to the new “happenings” in town. Another big news was the newly inaugurated Museum of Black Civilizations, that is conceived with the goal of highlighting “Africa’s contribution to the world’s cultural and scientific patrimony”. No need to say that I was speechless in front of such a representation of the histories and contemporary cultures of Black people everywhere, even outside Africa.
We moved back to the city center to have a long walk in the Medina, the old town, to visit the “Grande Mosque” (only from the outside as visitors are not allowed) and to enjoy the real Dakar, as I call the Medina, a neighborhood full of history but also a new cultural and artistic center of the city, especially for young artists and street artists.
We then moved towards the Corniche to visit (again!) the African Renaissance Monument (Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), a copper statue (the tallest in Africa) located on top of one of the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and representing a family drawn up towards the sky, the man carrying his child on his biceps and holding his wife by the waist, “an Africa emerging from the bowels of the earth, leaving obscurantism to go towards the light”. In front of this monument stands one of my favorite Mosques in Dakar, the Mosquée de la Divinité. Not as beautiful as the others mentioned before but I have a special affection for it that makes it very beautiful to my eyes!
We left the last day in Dakar for shopping and believe me, it is the hardest part!
First of all because Dakar is full of amazing markets and you cannot miss many of them, not only for buying food and other stuff but also because some of them are just amazing!
Marché Kermel is worth a visit especially for the building: housed within a kiln-shaped hall built during colonial times, the market has been a gathering spot for traders to sell their wares to European settlers since 1910 and it is a pleasure to spend some time among the typical Senegalese food and drink sellers to discover more about the culinary culture of the city. If you feel at ease, there is a very rudimental “restaurant” on the side where you can eat many different typical dishes at few euros (I did!).
Marché Sanadaga is a cluttered and congested marke, full of boutiques, side streets and stalls offering really everything and very good for wax print fabrics, even if the best for it is definitely Marché HLM in my opinion: full of colourful stacks of wax and bazin you can sip attaya (tea) while negotiating the prices!
Marché Tilène in the Medina is very similar to Sandaga and also very interesting, as well as Colobane, one of the less touristic ones, specialized in second hand clothes (oh yes, even in Dakar!!).
Last but not least, the artisanal market of Soumbédioune is a sort of small village where you can buy anything locally handcrafted (perfect to buy your little gifts) but it is more touristic then you will need to negotiate more here than everywhere else.
But Dakar has also a very vibrant fashion environment that is absolutely a not-to-miss when in town: Sisters of Afrika, Adama Paris, L’artisane, Sassy Chic, Tongoro are just a few names of amazing Senegalese designers who have their show room in Dakar that I strongly suggest to visit. I got a few dresses from Sisters of Afrika and Adama Paris and I couldn’t be happier.
It was a hard shopping day among markets and designers but we took a break for lunch to head to the Almadies, also known as the surfers’ paradise where we enjoyed a good lunch on the beach at The Secret Spot while admiring the Senegalese surfers on the ocean.
I was then ready (not really) to take a night flight from Dakar that would bring me home in the early morning the next day. Now I will miss Senegal so badly until I can go back again.
What to eat
Thieboudienne: the national dish, prepared with fish, rice, vegetables and tomato sauce cooked in one pot; it is usually served in a big bowl so that everyone can eat from it, it symbolizes the famous Senegalese teranga, their hospitality.
Mafé: possibly my favorite dish in Senegal, is a traditional spicy Senegalese stew made with a tomato-peanut butter sauce. The stew can be made from beef, lamb, or chicken with variations common throughout West Africa and it is served with rice. I don’t eat meat, unless it’s a mafé!
Yassa: Yassa is a spicy dish prepared with onions and meat or fish. Originally from Senegal, yassa has become popular throughout West Africa. Chicken yassa (known as yassa au poulet), prepared with onions, lemon or mustard, is a specialty from the Casamance region in the south of Senegal. Yassa Poisson (with fish) is my favorite one.
Naglakh: Ngalakh is a delicious Senegalese millet porridge that is traditionally flavored with either baobab cream, peanut butter, or sweet yogurt. It is typically served in large bowls as a dessert. The dish is consumed chilled, and it is recommended to sprinkle it with sugar before eating.
Domoda: Domoda is the national dish of Gambia, but you can easily find it also in Senegal. It is a peanut stew made with or without meat and served over fluffy rice. If meat is used in the dish, it is usually beef, bushmeat, or chicken. If Domoda is made without meat, any available vegetables can be added into the stew, usually pumpkins and sweet potatoes
Bissap/Bouye/Attaya: don’t leave the country if you haven’t tried the best drinks of Senegal! Bissap is a fresh drink made from the hibiscus (called bissap here) while Bouye is made with the baobab fruit. Attaya is the typical sugary Senegalese tea and I can tell you that you will ask for it all the time once you try it once!
Where to eat
Everywhere, especially in the streets or small family restaurants. I have never tasted bad Senegalese food, even if when I eat it at home, prepared by my Senegalese family, I am completely in heaven!
What to buy
Handmade textiles (wax, bazin): the Dakar markets are perfect to buy a lot of typical African textiles such as wax and bazin at very affordable prices compared to Europe. Just pay attention to the different quality of the textiles. Prices are almost standardized so you can negotiate basically if you buy many (as I do!).
Handmade silver Jewelry: Senegalese handcrafters are specialized in silver jewelry that has here incredible shapes inspired by the muslim sacred jewelry tradition and the tuareg one. My favorite rings come from Senegal and have important meanings for me as many of them have religious connotations.
Wooden home decorations: masks, statues, bowls, chairs, stools handmade with wood are typical here, it is the perfect place to grab your favorite one handcrafted locally.
Rugs: rugs are made in Senegal basically for religious purposes to sit for the prayers or just as a base where people can eat from the common plate. They are very cheap but also very well crafted with beautiful colors and patterns, you will love them!
Shea Butter: just the best and the cheapest shea butter can be found in Western Africa! The pure shea butter is a gift of the nature for almost everything so don’t miss that chance!
Handcrafted baskets: Senegal is famous for its amazing colored handcrafted baskets in many different shapes and sizes. I got mine in Tivouane on the way south from Lompoul but they are easy to find everywhere. PS: they will let you bring them on the plane, so don’t hesitate to buy more!
Tam tams: even if you are not a drummer you can still learn and if not, they still represent the beat of Africa’s heart and a wonderful piece of decoration (still looking for mine!)
A very last tip for all the vintage and antiques lovers: in many markets you can easily find very old men bringing old metal scrap and oxidized objects. Please stop and have a look: you cannot imagine the gems that are hiding in these little stalls for few cents if you have a proper look!
Welcome to the second part of my Peruvian adventure, maybe the most exciting part of this whole trip!
DAY 8: We arrived very early in the morning after a long overnight bus trip from Bolivia in Cusco, the old capital of the Inca Empire where you can really learn a lot about Inca civilization and get completely addicted it, my word! The same name comes from Qosqo or Qusquin that means center, navel in Quechua; in fact based on Inca mythology, it was the center where Underworld met the visible world and the Superior World. The city is called the navel of the Universe and you can feel the magic of this perfect place in many places of its valley, which are perfect for meditation as the connection with the Universal power here is stronger than anywhere else in the world (which I can confirm). We spent the morning in the area of San Blas before joining a free walking tour of the city that was very interesting to know more about its history, Inca civilization and the different areas of the city, including its famous San Pedro market. We booked it online as the other free tours that we joined in Peru and I must say that they are all very interesting and well managed, with very good tour guides. The tour is free but it is suggested to leave an offer because they really deserve it.
DAY 9: First personal dream came true during this trip: the visit of the Rainbow Mountain! La Montaña de Siete Colores is located in the Andes with an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level and it’s a two-hour drive from Cusco, and a walk of about 5 kilometers (you can use a horse for most of it, like I did). We had to leave the hotel at 3 in the morning to get there around ten in the morning but as it was winter time in Peru we were super lucky to see the mountain in all its beauty without snow! This rainbow-like appearance is created by the sediment of minerals throughout the area giving the mountain the different colors from turquoise to gold, from green to brown. It was hard to get at such altitude but I cannot name anything that impressed me more than that! The bad part of it is that the mountain was completely unknown to the locals because it was constantly covered with snow. It is only in the last decades that it was “discovered” as the climatic changes made it visible to people because the snow started to melt due to the planet higher temperatures. We booked this trip from Italy with Rainbow Mountain Travels and we found the agency very serious and helpful so I really suggest it. The prices are around 30 euros, including transportation from and to the hotel, breakfast, lunch and equipment for the trek (oxygen masks, doctors and Agua de Florida of course!). Being at 5,200 meters was a bit hard for those like me who are not used to it but with a good dose of Agua de Florida and a lot of mate in the morning I made my way to the mountain and back, although it is recommended not to stand more than 20/30 minutes on the top as it may become harder to breathe normally. We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon but we were so tired that we slept all the afternoon before getting out for dinner and come back immediately!
DAY 10: When we arrived in Cusco we booked a whole day tour of the Cusco Sacred Valley that was really one of the best discoveries ever, not only for the magic of the valley as I said before, but also for the places that we visited and the possibility to know more about Inca civilization that totally hooked me. We started the visit with the Archeological Park of Chinchero and of Moray containing Inca ruins, especially several terraced circular depressions with incredible modern irrigation systems. On this tour of the Sacred Valley we also visited Maras, famous for its amazing salt evaporation ponds, which have been in use since Inca times, offering a magnificent view. The last stop of our tour was Pisac, another amazing Inca village where the Inca created agricultural terraces that are still in use today. They also created terraces here by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands to enable production of surplus food which they used to store in incredible natural storages.
DAY 11: We left Cusco very early in the morning to reach Aguascalientes at lunch time on the typical busy Machu Picchu train. This small village lives around Machu Picchu tourism as it is the place from where all the buses to Machu Picchu leave so it is full of hotels and restaurants for tourists. We spent the afternoon hanging around, buying bus tickets for the following day “big visit”, imagining the Machu Picchu adventure and preparing to the trek with a good massage!
DAY 12: Finally meeting the Machu Picchu! After the Rainbow Mountain another dream came true during this trip, my third World Wonder! The lost city has still many mysteries to be solved but of one I am sure: the atmosphere of this place is incredible, the magic is tangible and the view over the valley is breathtaking! You can walk for hours and never get tired of it! I suggest to get a local guide at the entrance because it will tell you so much about this magical place that keeps its magic despite the huge number of tourists! Everything from train and entrance was booked from Italy except local buses (they sell in the afternoon for the day later) and guide. Make sure to book at least two months in advance as it is very hard to find the tickets. Consider also that due to the tourist emergency it is under discussion the idea of limiting daily entrance tickets. PS: if you practice meditation it is an amazing place to stop for a good practice here!
DAY 13: After the Machu Picchu visit we concluded our Sacred Valley with the visit of Ollantaytambo that we reached by train form Aguacalientes the night before. Ollantaytambo is part of the Inca Trail path and one of the most interesting Inca archeological sites. It was built as a ceremonial center and the visit of the city will make you discover some more interesting things about Incas. I was very impressed by the Storehouses, built out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where more wind and lower temperatures occur, defended their contents against decay. They are thought to have been used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window. Our fascinating tour of the Sacred Valley finishes here, just in time to catch our first domestic flight from Cusco to Lima and then to Trujillo, in the north of Peru where we arrived late at night in the fantastic original Hotel Colonial that I strongly suggest if you are in town.
DAY 14: We decided to spend the day in town walking around this amazing colonial city that I really wanted to visit and that was a great surprise for me as it is probably one of my favorite cities in Peru. We reached the sea level and breathing became easier also as we are finally near the sea. The city center contains many examples of colonial and religious architecture and its colours clearly tell the story of the long Spanish domination. I was constantly in a awe in front of the beauty and colors of its buildings (the Tribunal for example), churches (the Cathedral is just a wonderful yellow and white church that I totally fell in love with!) and simple houses and bars. I couldn’t stop taking pictures almost anywhere because my love for bold colors really blossomed here!
DAY 15: On day 14 we manage to arrange a one day excursion in the surroundings of Trujillo, as it is close to two major archeological sites of pre-Columbian monuments: Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the ancient world, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986; and the temples of the Sun and Moon (the largest adobe pyramid in Peru). They are both great examples of prehistoric Moche and Chimu cultures before the Inca conquest and subsequent expansion. These sites deserve a visit as they will keep you open mouth after the Sacred Valley experience! Our tour included a lovely lunch on the beach of Huanchaco, very well known small fishermen village and surfers’ top destination in Peru. We took a night bus to Lima (our last one!) that same night, our trip is about to finish…
DAY 16: We arrived in Lima early in the morning and we decided to have a last tour in Miraflores to breathe for the last time the Peruvian air (not the best air in Lima though as the city has very high pollution levels), eat our last Ceviche and get ready to catch our flight back to Milano!
Before giving you my best of (Food, Restaurants and Shops) let me give you a very last advice concerning traveling by bus: I was a bit skeptical at the beginning and I must say that it was hard not to sleep in proper beds and spend many hours in the bus BUT: i) Cruz del Sur buses are the best, super comfy and almost always on time; ii) it is the easiest and cheapest way if you want to travel all around the country; iii) the Andean landscapes by bus and priceless, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of these landscapes and the powerful energy of these mountains; traveling by bus is the only real way to enjoy them in all their beauty!
What to eat
Ceviche: the national dish and one of the most popular foods in Peru, ceviche can cause instant obsession as this cooked fish served cold traditionally includes sea bass (corvina) marinated for a few minutes in lime juice, onion, salt, and hot chilies (aji) is Peruvian to the core! Try the longstanding tradition of taking the leftover marinade of salt, lime, and chilis, mixing them with Pisco (a Peruvian brandy) and drinking it as a shooter!
Potatoes: Peru has dozen of potatoes variants and they use them all. If you are a potato addict please try them all (like I did), you will be amazed! Best discovery: Papas a la Huancaína, also in its variant with purple potatoes! It may look a bit like a yellow soupy mass topped with chopped soft-boiled egg, but don’t let that fool you.
Fried trout: If you are traveling around the Titicaca lake you will totally fall in love with this simple yet tasty recipe: the best thing is that most of the times the trout is fished just for you…can you get fresher fish that that?
Lomo saltado: Coming in second only to ceviche in popularity, lomo saltado is a mix of Chinese stir-fry and classic Peruvian cuisine. Tender strips of beef (occasionally you will find it made with alpaca meat) are marinated in soy sauce and add to onions, tomatoes, aji chillies, and other spices.
Queso helado: Traditional ice cream of Arequipa, nothing to do with cheese but super tasty, you can find it everywhere in town!
Where to eat
Amaz : amazing Amazonian cuisine in Lima
El Rincón del Bigote: the best traditional “cevichería” in Lima
Victoria Picanteria Democratica: traditional food of Arequipa in an historical restaurant that reminds us of the revolutionary past of the town
Faustina: Historical familiar restaurant following the tradition of the “abuela Faustina” that mixes tradition with modern in Cuzco
El Celler de Cler: modern and traditional cuisine in an historical Spanish building of Trujillo (ask for a table outside if possible, you won’t regret it!)
What to buy
(if you can don’t get these items at the markets as they are often not really handmade and not really traditional; if you do, choose carefully and make sure you buy from a local handcrafter)
Traditional Handmade (wool) blankets, rugs, scarves and tablecloths
Traditional Handmade Peruvian Hats
Traditional Handmade silver jewelry representing Peruvian elements: the Inca Cross, the Pachamama or other traditional representations (better if antiques)
Original alpaca wool ponchos, sweaters or accessories
16 days backpacking in Peru from North to South is it possible? Yes, and it is one of my last adventures before the Covid-19 stopped all my foreign adventures for now!
It was a long and challenging trip but definitely one of the best experiences ever! I will share it in two different posts because it is very long and there’s a lot to say so let’s start with the journey and some of my personal tips to have a wonderful time in Peru!
First of all it is important to plan in advance your trip: I booked my flight in January because flights may be very expensive, so almost 8 months before the trip itself. Two months before I booked the hotels (all through Booking.com), bus tickets for long-distance transportation and the main entries and free tours in some towns. Only few of them were booked locally (e.g. Trujillo, in the North). Before leaving I also packed with a few very important things if you travel to Peru: comfy mountain shoes, warm sweaters and jackets for the important altitudes also to protect against the wind (no medicines because the best ones, totally natural can be found there), a good and long lasting charger for the nights spent in the bus traveling. Don’t forget to bring tee shirts too as the weather can change very easily during the day and you can easily go from 0 degrees to 20 in a few hours! If you are scared of altitude remember that you will be filled with “mate” infusions and you can easily find low cost herbal remedies in local pharmacies; if you follow my personal tour the big advantage is that you gain altitude progressively which will definitely help with getting accustomed making just baby steps. In general you will probably feel more fatigue even to accomplish easy tasks (for me it was especially during the night as I found it hard to breathe normally during sleep) and you may feel huge headaches at very high altitudes but Peruvians have good remedies also for this (ask for some Agua de Florida in Cuzco, they will be pleased to show you its amazing powers!).
Anyway, any Peruvian trip usually starts from Lima, the capital of Peru where we arrived at night: we decided to stay safe in a modern touristic area of Lima called Miraflores, where we ate in an amazing Amazonian restaurant called Amaz before getting our well-deserved rest!
DAY 1: We spent our first full day in Lima and we booked a one day trip with Limavision to visit the ruins of Pachacamac (not far from the city) and the city center : the beautiful Cathedral and the very peculiar old town streets give you the idea of the Spanish past of this very modern and crowded city, where traffic jams are the worse I have ever seen! By the way, while in Lima we used Bolt to go around, it is very common there and very cheap.
DAY 2: Our real trip started on the second day in Peru when we left Lima (where we will be back at the end of the trip) very early in the morning to take our bus to Ica, 2 hours away starting our journey towards the South. We used for all our bus rides Cruz del Sur, the most famous bus company in Peru with very modern and comfortable buses traveling all around the country but we booked all the trips months before the trip. In Ica you will find many people asking you for a taxi outside the bus station but make sure to get an approved one to bring you to Huacachina, an “oasis” in the Peruvian desert surrounded by sand dunes: it is very popular for sandboarding and dune buggy drives! Once you get there you will easily find many tours agencies offering the experience so, don’t miss the fun especially because you will be rewarded with one of the nicest desert sunsets. That same night we left by bus to Nazca (2 hours trip) for the next big adventure, the one that I was most scared of!
DAY 3: Overlooking the famous Nazca lines, an impressive group of very large geoglyphs made in the soil of the Nazca Desert from an helicopter was the scariest thing of this trip for me! Apparently I got enough mate in the morning to avoid any nausea and the trip went very well or possibly Aero Paracas’ pilots are very good! This visit was probably one of the most expensive (I suggest you to book it from home) but also one of the most interesting in Peru, also because the mystery around these lines are still open to many different interpretations! In the afternoon our hotel host proposed a very interesting tour of some of the beauties of Nazca, pretty unknown to the tourists who come here only for the lines: the incredible necropolis of Chauchilla, the lost city of Cahuachi with its amazing Nazca pyramids or the perfectly functioning Cantalloc pre-Inca aqueducts. The same night at ten we left for the first overnight bus trip to Arequipa where we arrived on day 4!
DAY 4: We arrived in Arequipa early in the morning, very tired even if overnight buses are quite comfortable. The city is at an altitude of 2300 meters so we started going higher but it is still very nice and just a little bit chillier. Arequipa is the second town of Peru as per population and has an amazing history: it is known as La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) because of the color of the stone with which it was built. For this reason it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had the chance to discover Arequipa’s history in the afternoon in a lovely free city tour (an offer is appreciated though) as well as its lovely handcrafters in the city center selling alpaca wool pieces or amazing antiques. But the not-to-miss attraction of Arequipa is Santa Catalina Monastery which we discovered during the day with its light blue and dark red colors really left us addicted (and full of Instagrammable pictures!).
DAY 5: We enjoyed some few hours in Arequipa visiting the famous Market Fundo el Fierro before getting on another bus that would lead us to Puno, after almost 7 hours. We booked a night on the famous floating islands of Uros on the Lake Titicaca. Where we arrived during the night on a little boat (fascinating!).
DAY 6: Sleeping on a floating island was such an experience! We woke up on this tiny island with a few houses made of totora; in fact Uros Islands are made entirely from totora reeds and the lives of the inhabitants of these artificial islands are entirely dependent upon the reed beds they live among. Despite it became such a touristic experience it’s still an incredible adventure and the communities living on the islands are very friendly and welcoming. We spent the day on a typical handmade boat, learning local fishing techniques, how the reed islands are made and enjoying some time in traditional costumes while chatting with the lovely people of the islands. If I can give you a suggestion just avoid the biggest islands and prefer the smallest ones where real communities still live there. The biggest ones are too touristic and all the magic of these places will be completely lost. We left for the Southern part of the Lake in the afternoon when we arrived to Bolivia to enjoy a completely different view of the Titicaca Lake.
DAY 7: We arrived in Copacabana in Bolivia and we immediately realized how everything was different compared to the Uros. Much less touristic, an incredible nature and definitely one of the best views of Titicaca Lake. From our hotel we booked an half-day boat excursion to the Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna where we got caught in the best views of the lake ever. These two islands are incredible, there is a lot to walk but your eyes will be amazed and will be filled with extreme beauty. We had an amazing lunch on a floating restaurant (the best fried trout ever for less than 1 euro) before hitting back the road and leaving Bolivia during another overnight trip back to Peru to finally discover the capital of the Inca Empire: Cuzco and its region.
I will leave this incredible part of the trip (it was like a crescendo of emotions and discoveries) for the second part of my Peruvian adventure next time! Also, my suggestions for best restaurants, what to eat and what to buy will be in the next post.
Us travelers will probably face new challenges and will need to adapt to the changes if we want to continue discovering the world. Personally I had to postpone two trips and to cancel two more in Europe and in Africa and I started considering rediscovering my own country Italy in the next months.
I read a lot during the last few months that Covid-19 will probably change our way of traveling for the next months and maybe years in many different ways.
It made me think that the last time that I visited a city in Italy was in September 2019, yes long time ago, when I joined my parents and their friends in Padua while they were touring Veneto and Emilia Romagna. We spent a lovely day in Padua all together and I discovered a wonderful city that has so much more than the wonderful Sant’Antonio Basilica with its amazing decorations. The Basilica was built to house the tomb of St. Anthony, whose remains are spread through 2 of the churches 4 cloisters. The Basilica is huge with 8 domes and some bell towers and it is one of the most mystic places for prayer that I have ever visited. It is rich in traditions, history and decorations, it will leave every visitor with the mouth wide open. Also its patio is absolutely lovely.
But the Basilica is just one of the best monuments in town.
I started my visit with the amazing Cappella degli Scrovegni, with masterful frescos by Giotto. The access is very limited so don’t forget to book your visit way in advance online because it is really worth a visit. From there you can easily reach the old town by walk and reach the beautiful and vibrant Piazza delle Erbe e della Frutta with its amazing Palazzo della Ragione, full of frescos and artifacts.
Also, the Battistero – currently under restoration – is worth a visit as well as the University, the second oldest in Italy and where Galileo taught and Dante was a student!
We walked to the Prato della Valle, a beautiful park with fountains and surrounded by statues, where we found a lovely food market to taste some local food and wine!
I can say that in general the frescos and historical buildings of Padua will take your breath away: it is a very retro city, full of history and, speaking of this, you definitely need to visit Café Pedrocchi, opened in 1831, that was the largest café in Europe and was visited by artists from all over Europe including Stendhal and Lord Byron. You can go there for a coffee or for a spritz and feel like a vintage diva!
I didn’t have time for vintage shopping but if you are around, I love Foxy Brown, a lovely shop not far from the train station that you would love for sure!
A couple of weeks ago I shared my first shooting in one of my favorite bars in Milan, Gauche Caviar.
The post was in Italian but I guess that you have easily imagined how much I love this place that really felt like home to me. One thing that I didn’t mention in my Italian post but that I will mention here is the music that you can listen to at Gauche Caviar: if you are a jazz lover and if you love retro music this place is not only fabulous to sip a good glass of wine or a cocktail but it is also perfect to listen to great music as a background for your conversation or just for your thoughts if you are alone.
If you live in Milan or just pass by for a quick visit, I really suggest you spend some time here as it is really worth the visit and easy to reach as it is in near the central Piazza Cinque Giornate.
This is then my second post at Gauche Caviar and I went for another vintage and handmade outfit with a retro vibe that really fits the place.
It all started with this beautiful silk shirt with a ruffle on the collar and precious details that I purchased from the adorable Josephine Vintage. She is selling on Depop and Vintag incredible pieces from the past, many of them are designer’s, and she quickly became one of my favorite online vintage sellers. I paired it with black and white roses silky pants handmade by Madame Ilary: these are a very glamourous version of her Marlene trousers and I always feel so elegant when I wear them! Same for the beautiful handmade turban with a brocade fabric and vintage trimming that I keep for the “special occasions”!
Embroidered sandals are from Anniel while golden bamboo earrings are from Giovanni Raspini (I received this pair of earrings as a gift from my colleagues for my last birthday and I was going to cry for how happy I was!) .
Last but not least, a special mention for the amazing 40s velvet bag with golden chain that I got from A Rebours Vintage in Milan during my last visit. I loved it at first sight and it is incredible how such a small accessory can make every outfit great! This is the power of vintage pieces…I will never get tired of learning and praising this!
Last year I started my Spain discovery tour with a trip to Madrid, followed by Barcelona and Valencia, because I realized that I haven’t traveled to Spain at all, even if I am loving it more and more as far as I discover new corners of this beautiful country. This year I decided to add a new city to my Spain discovery tour: Bilbao. I had many friends who visited it and they all loved it, then I decided to book a long weekend with a friend there and I must say that it was great!
We arrived on an early afternoon and once we left our luggage at the hotel we headed by tram to my third Guggenheim museum out of four in the world (Bilbao, Venice, New York and Abu Dhabi – the one that I haven’t visited yet): I wasn’t disappointed at all! I loved the modern architecture of this museum and I loved the most famous pieces exposed outside: the “Puppy”, a floral puppy by Jeff Koons as well as his famous Tulips also exposed in Milan at the Fondazione Prada, or the big spider “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois. I was lucky enough to find there many pieces by Jenny Holzer, one of my favorite artists, who also dedicated a permanent installation to the city of Bilbao. Her colored neon art tells stories of migrants, solitude and fights, it was a pleasure to admire her art for real for the first time in Bilbao.
After a few hours lost in this beautiful museum we headed back to the Plaza Nueva and we enjoyed the Spanish “pintxos” time. The Place is full of bars where you can eat the most delicious pintxos, the Basque Country version of the famous Spanish tapas, with the best local red wine (vino tinto) – I will give you my favorite addresses in the Plaza Nueva at the end of the post. It’s the best moment to enjoy the city at its best: full of people, sparkling and creative!
The next day we had a very long walk around the city (the good thing about Bilbao is that you can easily walk to visit it as it is quite small) starting from the amazing area where we stayed, Bilbao La Vieja: we admired it at night and it has the best spots for drinking, probably the most visited by young people, but during the day we could admire its great street art: graffiti and murals are a must when you visit this old mining area that went from popular to trendy in the last decades. You can still see the entrance of the old mine near one of the restaurants along the river and you can recognize it by the mine graffiti on the wall (just in front of the Ribera market). Then we headed to the old town, Plaza Nueva again, the beautiful Plaza de Unamuno with the famous staircase and the Pensión Matilde, the Cathedral, the amazing art nouveau building of the Abando train station (possibly my favorite building in town) and all the tiny streets where it’s so easy but also so pleasant to get lost. In these little streets you can also find Flamingos Vintage Kilo (they have many shops in other Spanish cities like Barcelona), possibly my favorite vintage shop in town, where I bought two little 80s dress for less than 10 euros and I can’t wait to wear them!
Before heading to the “new” area of Bilbao we stopped at the Mercado de la Ribera, an institution in town, beautifully decorated food market where you can also eat meat, fish or of course pintxos, like we did (with a glass of red wine) at the Vermutería. The food was excellent and so was the wine…we got ready for a busy afternoon towards Plaza Moyúa and the newest part of Bilbao with big streets and modern shops…a bit boring for us! Then we decided to take the Artxanda Funicular to find some peace on top of the hill and to admire a wonderful view of Bilbao from the top! Of course all this peace made us ready for the crowd of the Plaza Nueva and for another night of pintxos, wine and music in Bilbao!
We spent our last day in Bilbao far away from the city: we took a bus up north to see the Basque Coast, more precisely the lovely city of Getaria to visit the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum just near the curated central square of the town. The museum is definitely worth a visit not only for the comprehensive view of the designer life and creations but also for its beautiful modern architecture: a black cube from the outside but great light and pink walls inside! I loved this museum dedicated to one of the most important designers ever, also one of my favorite of all times!
The village is very famous for the museum but also for the wonderful beach and for the restaurants near the beach where you can eat the best fresh fish but be careful: you need to book a table before and to choose carefully the restaurant as some of them are really incredibly expensive! After our dose of fresh fish and blue sea we headed back to Bilbao for our last festive night in Plaza Nueva first and in Bilbao La Vieja then!
As promised a last word to my favorite spots for pintxos in town, all in the big square Plaza Nueva. We loved Zaharra, a new spot with delicious food and wine and we ADORED the historical Café Bar Bilbao (one of the oldest bars in town where we switched from pintxos to fried calamari as it is the plate they are famous for!) and the traditional Victor Montes for the excellent pintxos and wine.