Buddha is always Buddha!

The weirdest place to find in Portugal is Buddha Eden.

Don’t know if you like parks, but I adore calm places to walk around, zoo and botanical gardens. But most I like really weird kitsch places, which you don’t expect to find in the place they are located, it changes environment and the mood fundamentally.

The Portugal is so calm, has beautiful nature of southern Europe, calm cozy cities. And then you are driving to the place called Buddha Eden, oriental park with all the possible oriental flora and even some fauna like koi fishes, shapes of the lakes and paths and hundreds of Buddha statues.

35 hectares of Art in the name of all the Bamiyan Buddha destroyed in Afghanistan in 2001.

The most surprising that all the park looks not like something unnatural, all the statues seems real and old, so you are losing the feeling that you are in Europe. But also you can find here the great example of modern art. The craziest thing impressed me is a copy of the huge part of Chinese terracotta army even with horses, made in electric blue color.

The project is impressive in craziness and idea behind, made me happy to be there.

Where: 1 hour drive on the way to Peniche (surfer’s paradise with longest waves in the world)

When: Any sunny day, 1-2 hours to walk around, make photos, eat your precious sandwich (don’t forget).

Web: http://www.centerofportugal.com/buddha-eden-garden/

M

Do you want to be advised on logistics? We will be happy to share! Skype us to Leone Principessa

Hearty and friendly Belgrade.

Air Serbia has a flight from Moscow to Milan with six-hour stop in Belgrade. We took these tickets just because it was half less price than a direct flight. Stewardesses are all with red lips, friendly and positive, as, indeed, the taxi driver from the airport to the city, and it’s not possible to not give him tips really.

Out from six hours of stop we had, of course, only three to visit Belgrade. We are both not the first time in the city, but Leone was here quite passing through, so I had chosen all the places based on my experience, which impressed me the fist time I was here.

First of all, lunch. There are a lot of cozy cafes in the city with a warm atmosphere, a bit hipster, but matured. We had lunch in Smokvica, a wonderful little place with light Italian and almost middle east cuisines. Incredible blue walls, high ceilings, a live fireplace, huge wooden windows.  Leone, of course, did not miss the opportunity to treat himself with Serbian wine.

FullSizeRender

When we were full, we went to the Museum of Nikola Tesla. Weather in Belgrade, after -20 in Moscow, to put it mildly, is spring. Two days before our arrival, the snow fell, and now +6 seems like in March. Warmed ourself.

Nikola Tesla Museum. All I know about this incredible scientist and his inventions, all from this museum. In my opinion, the nicest museum I have ever visited. Every hour a charismatic young man with perfect English tells to visitors of museum (with us it was 25-30 people) about inventions of Tesla, which were so many that by issuing patents each month it would be enough for a lifetime. What is most remarkable is that the young man switches on and shows all the museum’s exhibits, gives to touch and try all of them. It turned out that Leone knew really little about Nikola Tesla, and he was surprised and very happy to visit the museum.

IMG_1020

After the museum we went to take a look at the Danube, but lost a way, as usual, and wandered into the street with closed bars. The city is very beautiful: ancient buildings, small hidden streets and an incredible amount of street art, and not bright, but smart, non-intrusive, covering the sad empty gray walls of houses.

IMG_0854

For a while we could not find a place where you can call a taxi to airport (catching taxi on the road is not possible), somehow reached fuel station, and only just asked refuel girl where we would call a taxi, she immediately took out her phone and called.

People here like this, always ready to help, to explain, friendly and hearty. Maybe that’s why the atmosphere in Belgrade so warm, as people.

We sat already in the plane, which was raising in the air, when snow began again. For the first time I took off through the wall of snow. Beautiful.

IMG_1022

On the whole, just stop between flights, but very intensely positive emotions as a result. Warm and delicious.

P

  1. P.S.: Need practical advice on traveling in Balkans? Check this post of Leone here.

Smokvica: http://smokvica.rs/srb/

 

Prepare a trip in the Balkans, practical guide to an exciting journey

After me and Principessa began publishing articles about our trip in the Balkans several friends made a number of logistic and curious questions like: “There are mines?”, “There are the roads?”, “Is it dangerous? ” and other nonsense questions of this kind. I tell you now that the trip was quiet, smoothly, without risky situations and in this article I try to answer the most frequently asked questions.

Balkans in the car, what should I do? Documents? Insurance?

If you are the owner of the car or the owner of the car is in the car with you, no special documents are needed, if not you need authorization to drive this car, signed by a notary. All Italian (and European) insurances provide a green card that is valid as insurance in all Balkan countries except Kosovo and Albania if crossed. No fear, for KOSOVO just after the border you will find the office in charge to sell you a temporary insurance, we paid 20 € for 7 days coming from Serbia, if you are entering from other nations the applicable tariff is €15 but take attention about restrictions of movement and customs issues (see next question). All rates on the official website. For Albania, we have used a secondary border at night, and we didn’t take the insurance at our own risk, even if our green card has the “AL” crossed out. It seems that it is possible to buy insurance at the border at a cost of 27 € per 15 days.

Attention, in most Balkan countries the tolerance of alcohol while driving is 0. If you have to drive do not drink!

Customs and controls, waiting time and limitations

The first time I went in the Balkans, about 10 years ago, I remember a long queue at customs between Serbia and Bulgaria, if I remember correctly I spent there four hours. Now the situation is better, despite the period of migration and holidays (September) the customs we spent more time were to and from Turkey, where we waited about 20 minutes. In all borders police will ask you documents of people and of the car, in some cases even a green card (insurance). It can happen that some kilometers before the customs you will find a long line of trucks, in this case you have to go against traffic and overcome them all, because they have a special custom for goods, and sometimes (especially from Turkey), they wait even days; if you are not sure, wait when a local car will pass and follow it. WARNING particular to Kosovo: Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, which according to the Serbian authorities continues to be a region of Serbia. If you want to travel from Kosovo to Serbia, you do have to go to Kosovo from Serbia. If, for example, you came into Kosovo from Macedonia and try to go out to Serbia, border police will block you, saying that you have entered illegally in Serbia (not recognizing the stamp that the border police of Kosovo will put on your passport). If you are all Italians (or citizen of any country that can enter Serbia with just ID) you can bypass this rule, show to the police of Kosovo your passport, and then enter Serbia showing ID only.

Documents required for Italian citizens (and probably for EU citizens)

The Italian citizens can visit all the Balkan countries with ID cards only, excluding Kosovo, for which you need a passport valid for at least 6 months. This information is updated on January 2016. If you want the latest information and the official visit of the Italian Foreign Ministry website: www.viaggiaresicuri.it.

Special cases: if you plan to travel to Serbia after visiting Kosovo, use the only ID card to enter Serbia. Since Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation, may deny you access to the country if they see the stamp of Kosovo, we have traveled from Serbia to Kosovo and then again in Serbia, and Principessa who need a passport for both nations, had no problems, but before to let us in Serbian police verified that the date of the Serbian stamp was before than the one of the stamp of Kosovo. For Turkey you just need an identity card if you access by air / ship or land borders with Bulgaria and Greece. If you access other borders by land passport is required. The website of the Italian Foreign Ministry said that the Serbian police makes access problems if he sees the stamp in the passport of Kosovo, and to ask the Border Police of Kosovo to make the stamp on a separate sheet. We entered two times in Serbia (by land and air) with the stamp of Kosovo in the passport and we did not have this problem, in fact a few days ago the Serbian border police has stamped on my passport on the same page where I have stamp of Kosovo without raising any problem. If traveling with an identity card, it must be valid for travel abroad. Some citizens have had problems (and rejections) for ID cards renovated by stamp (this is about Italian ID only).

Documents required for Russian citizens.

Principessa has traveled with me to all the nations of the Balkans with valid Russian passport and visa for Schengen area. No visa required for individual countries.

Quality of the roads and tolls.

The quality of the roads is good, if you are traveling between the capitals and the coastal areas you will drive mostly along highways with two lanes in each direction. In Bosnia there are no highways but the roads are great, it is a mountain country, but there are many galleries and double lane in the uphill sections to facilitate overtaking  of slow vehicles. We traveled without navigation, using maps and used both main roads, secondary and local roads that did not appear at all on the maps. The worst conditions you can find are some gravel roads, usually well maintained, in Bosnia, but again only on itineraries off the beaten tracks, and definitely in Albania: there are too many holes on the main roads and highways, beware of bridges, are often not on level and sometimes there is no the metal joints between the bridge and the road, so drive slowly and enjoy the journey; also in Albania, on secondary roads, for example to reach Koman, beautiful place that we described in this post, you’ll have to travel at 20/ 30km/h because of many holes, animals, etc., keep that in mind when planning your trip. . Also in the north of Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bulgaria may happen to find roads with many holes, but only local roads (you need to use this kind of roads to reach places like: Drvengrad or Plovdiv) . In the south of the Balkans and in Turkey you will find enough well-maintained highways (I speak here only about European Turkey as we have not gone after Istanbul). As for tolls most countries have the main toll roads, you can pay directly at the toll exit, with cash (usually accept local currency and Euro) or credit cards of the main circuits. Only Bulgaria and Slovenia require to purchase  a Vignette (road tax), for Slovenia the sticker for car for one week costs 15 €, all the information on the official website while for Bulgaria costs just over € 7, on this site the latest information. In Bulgaria, the Vignette is required for all major roads, not only for highways, pay attention that at the customs nobody force you to buy it, but police checks are frequent, as well as the cameras. We bought it only after 24 hours we entered the country in a service station (we forgot), we have not received sanctions yet, but we were lucky that no one stopped us. Also in Bulgaria in all border you have to pay € 6 for the disinfection of the car, you can pay in local currency or Euro (the figure could vary). As for Slovenia you can get the stamp in Italy near the border at gas stations or directly into the country. If you have to go to Rijeka (or down in Dalmatia and so on) in Croatia from Italy, you can cross Slovenia (less than 50KM) without Vignette because the road between Trieste and Rijeka is not an highway, but pay attention to speed limits!

Reaching the Balkans by plane.

Our only experience was with Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade. We reached Belgrade from Milan with Air Serbia and from Moscow with Aeroflot. Both are companies with good standards, Air Serbia is part of the group Etihad as Alitalia and Aeroflot is part of the SkyTeam alliance.

How to reach the center of Belgrade from Nikola Tesla Airport?

You can reach the center by taxi or Bus. We took the taxi, ignore all the guys will ask if you need a taxi, they are unofficial taxis and they will try to cheat you, this is true about almost all airports. At the arrivals, just before the door that takes you outside the airport there is a taxi desk, you give the destination address and the operator will give you a voucher, which you do not pay, indicating the fare (1800rsd or 1400rsd for center, depending on the exact destination, in Euro 11.50 / € 15.00) that you will need to pay to the driver. On the way back the driver will use the taximeter and will cost a little less, from the center we paid 1300rsd. There are no taxis station and taxis do not stop if you call them with the arm from the road, if you ask in a bar, gas station or other places to call you a taxi they do it willingly. The checked by us good service is provided by Pink Taxi.

Languages ​​and currencies.

English is quite widespread in all countries of the Balkans, especially if you are in big cities or tourist sites, and if you talk to young people. In some places you can find people who speak Italian, especially in Slovenia and Croatia. In Albania, many people know Italian better than English. In Serbia some people know Russian, this helped us to ask for directions in one small city. Be aware that some countries such as Serbia and Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and in Greece, the Greek alphabet, have with you a table with these alphabets can help you distinguish the signs, learn them is not so difficult, I enjoyed a lot to try to read the street signs. Here is the Cyrillic alphabet, and here the Greek one.

As for currencies, the euro is the official currency in Slovenia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Greece. All other countries, each have their own money, usually with a fixed exchange rate with Euro, before traveling you can check and if there is convenient you can print out the tables with exchange rates. It is not necessary to start with a lot of cash or trying to get currency in advance with disadvantageous rates. In all these countries it is easy to find ATMs where you can withdraw. Widespread circuits are Maestro, Mastercard, and Visa. American Express a bit less. The majority of shops and restaurants allow payment by credit card, you will need cash for example if you decide to rent rooms in private homes or for small purchases.

Where to stay and eat?

Here you have a wide choice, in all tourist areas and big cities you will find hotels, campgrounds, houses. We started without booking anything and we had no problems. Obviously if you decide to go to busy places such as the islands of the northern Croatia in August, and in large groups, in high season, it is better to book, but if like us, you will travel in couple in September you’ll be fine. In places rarely visited such as smaller towns of Bulgaria or Serbia do not expect great quality standards, but you’ll easily find small hotels or guest house modest but clean. If sleep can sometimes be difficult, eat will always be a pleasure, even in the most remote places there are great restaurants with typical dishes, salads etc., We always ate very well and often drank local wines.

Budget.

Depends on the place you visit, northern Croatia, as well as tourist destinations such as Dubrovnik or Monstar are required and therefore expensive, like visiting a place on seaside in Italy. If your budget is tight anyway no problem, you can rent a small apartment by the sea on islands in the South / Central Dalmatia with about 50 € per night for 2 people. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the island of Korcula, Lumbarda precisely where at the local tourist office we found a very nice apartment for under 50 € per night.

In the capitals the prices are in line with those Europeans, while off the beaten tracks, and in countries like Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia etc. you can eat well with less than 10 € per person and sleep with less than 20 € in good accommodation (private houses, small hotels). We loved the eco village Zelenkovac In Bosnia, where we had dinner with Cevapcici, beer and wine, slept and took a cup of tea for breakfast for 40 € for two people in total.

If you like SPA and ski you do have to go to Jahorina, we found a luxury hotel called Termag Hotel: http://termaghotel.com/en/.  It was a wonderful experience, unforgettable four days in a suite with Jacuzzi, with romantic package, eating and drinking wine, doing massages, we spent in four days the same amount you can spend on a day in the Dolomites for a similar (or worse) hotel.

So there’s a bit for all tastes.

Islands, ferries and small boats.

We never took a ferry from Italy to the Balkans, but we took ferries between the islands. All without booking but simply bringing us into the harbor in the morning and buying a ticket. Prices are more than affordable.

On the islands it is often possible to rent small boats with outboard engine to reach bays or small islands. The beautiful island of Badija where the sea looks like a pool and there are deers! Easily accessible from Lumbarda on the island of Korcula.

Here ends the guide, I hope I have cleared up a bit ‘of doubts. If you have any questions please leave a comment.

Nikola Lenivets: fantastic day out!

Reading first articles of this blog is clear that we often talk about travel or short trips, usually in places not too common and possible to do with a tight budget. This is the first post about Russia, in a not common place, at least for Italians, but not too complicated to achieve: Nikola Lenivets.

Probably this name will not say anything to most of you, Nikola Lenivets was born as a place of inspiration for some Russian artists who later, with the help of the locals, began to create large monuments with natural elements. Today it is the largest landscaped park in Europe and home of the festival “Archstoyanie”.

I adored this trip! I am still saying thanks to Principessa, I like everything and the road trip, in a place so different from what I am used, was really thrilling!

Princess and I booked an overnight stay on the internet and planned to leave Moscow in the morning at 8 with a rented car, of course we started at noon and after half an hour we stopped for a hamburger … After that we proceeded quite fast and without further stops to arrive on site before nightfall for fear of not finding the place.

Waze navigator was as always a reliable travel companion, by entering the name of the park in Latin characters brought us exactly to the reception, where a friendly girl showed us how to get to our accommodation, where to park, eat, etc. We also bought a map for 100 rubles (about 1.30 €), just to be sure not to get lost.

After 4 km of gravel road, we reached our ‘Klever’ cottage, a small house of wood created by Mel Studio, complete with toilet, sleeping loft, heater, wood stove and a fantastic panoramic glass wall.

KleverHouse

Outside the thermometer marked about -20, but inside the house, the stove was already on, the wood was cut and ready and everything was very very comfortable and warm, we needed it … but here we had a little mishap, from a brief conversation we understood that neighbors were a group of boors, and absolutely not appropriate. We had confirmation when we called the front desk to report that sheets and towels were not present, and set it back we discovered that the neighbors took them (sheets, towels, blankets, slippers, everything that you could take short) because they booked for 6 people and came in 10. The staff was very helpful and solved the problem in minutes.

After being settled in, we went to dinner in a few minutes’ walk we reached the cafeteria, a small restaurant where two girls with oriental looking serve food cooked on a large wood burning stove. We ate a mushroom soup with Smetana (Sour Cream), chicken soup with noodles, plov (Uzbek dish made with rice, lamb and vegetables), pasta Bolognese and two cups of hot tea, after twenty minutes outdoors we needed. The soups were excellent, plov fantastic but of course the pasta was overcooked and the meat was very far from the sauce to which we are accustomed, but we ordered more out of curiosity, and, in its way, was good.

After dinner, we enjoyed the warmth of the wood stove in our loft, and apart from the screams of our neighbors around midnight, was a night too quiet. Actually I was a bit ‘surprised by all this tranquility; the reception has nonetheless called us in the morning apologizing for the inconvenience caused, even offering us to stay an extra night free of charge. We were told that the screams were due the neighbors fighting each other for missing beds, everyone went into the hospital for because they hurt each other, that’s why the shouts were over very soon.

Early in the morning we went to breakfast in the same canteen, coffee, croissants with butter and jam and blini (Russian version of crepes), and then we started our day of exploring. Due to the size of the place and the harsh climate, we moved into the car from a monument to another, Principessa was already familiar with the place, I enjoyed it a lot, and we meet one of the artists who live here and who create various woodcarvings of  animals.

Bogor  BirdsVSInsects

There were not only monuments of wood, but also churches, “stylish” bus stops, houses, and images typical of the Russian countryside. On the way back we stopped at least 20 times, struck by how many curious things you may encounter while traveling by car.

Monument      House

I see that already I’m linger, sorry for being so long, on the way back we saw a monument and a museum about the Second World War ( http://www.museum.ru/M620 ). While Principessa remained in the car to take a nap (by car turned on with hot air), I went to see the museum, I had no cash for the entrance fee (70 rubles, a little less than 1 euro) and they did not accept cards but a nice lady let me in for free. I walked around the small room with memorabilia of World War II and hailed to exit. The lady stopped me and showed me an album of photos in black and white, the lady spoke only a few words in English, but as I understood, shots were made by his grandfather, during the advance of the Germans to Moscow, stuck in that place by a river for several days. The shots were really rare, high quality, mainly depicting the destruction of the bridge, German tanks blocked in the mud and the construction of a new wooden bridge. I never expected such a surprise for such a small museum.

Complete album here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/137487255@N06/j285G0 

A (long) day in Albania – Part 3

And so, after two months from last post about Albania I am going to write the last chapter of this story. I am sitting on the bed with Princess and I am happy, were two months of intensive work, travel, a lot of different activities and is only now that I find the time to write and I am realizing how much I missed this activity .. in which is clear that I am still a novice.

Returning to the facts, we had left in Koman, without ferry and with the idea (unscheduled as always)to go to Tirana. Left the valley, and its horrible trail, a road fairly well maintained drove us to the capital, we were already quite tired but reach the center was relatively easy.

Passing by car from Skanderbeg Square we were immediately fascinated, a huge space, according to Wikipedia 5 hectares, with wide streets, lawns, flowers, dedicated to the Albanian National Hero Giorgio Castriota. Leaving the car at the first parking available we walked, and here, at the same venue, the thing we liked most:

Albania5

This is the mosaic “The Albanians”, created in the eighties, from various artists, it represent the Albanian people history, still impresses me how a picture so beautiful could sum up the history of a country.

Tirana is a mixture of different architectures, the pyramid is impressive, built in 1987 as a mausoleum of the dictator Enver Hoxha, and then turned into a cultural center. Many time demolition was planned, but it’s still there, and I personally like it, I like to see young people who chatting around it, close to the word “Mos Me Harroni” that in Albanian means “To Not Forget”, a piece of history, good or bad, is always a piece of history.

Albania6

After a short walk, we got hungry, you will have already guessed by reading other articles, we’re both foodies, and that in all of our stories you will find something to eat. Recommended by our Lonely Planet we visited the restaurant Oda, in a side street not far from the center, after having turned around a few times, we found the entrance, a nice lady made us sit in one of the small rooms, furnished in Albanian style. We had great time, the furniture were not the only traditional thing, the food there really surprised us, we strongly recommend to visit this place, we tried several dishes doing our best and challenging the elasticity of our stomachs !! Me and Principessa look forward to come back!

Albania8

Sunset is coming and we decided to leave the city, destination Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Leave Tirana was not easy, a few directions, no detailed map of the city and a traffic devastating. We drove along a mountain road, without even a light, I tried to follow the local cars, driving better than me, or so it seemed. At about 22:00, tired, we arrived at the border and we made our first entry in Macedonia, after having finished the formalities of the case, and politely rejected the offer of the border official who wanted to rent us a house, we reach Ohrid, where we stayed for two days, lovely place, but that’s another story …

And so the 5th day of our trip is over, we drove a lot, took ferries, rented a small boat, met a lot of people, ate ate ate, visited cities, swam, met animals and slept little, only the first taste of a trip that we will never forget.

A bit of junk in the capital of fashion

Junk markets. Flea markets. Garage sales.

In my opinion, the best souvenirs are a local food and things that talk about the culture of the place. What could be more authentic then everyday objects from houses of locals, moreover with 40-50 year story? Flea market – the best place to look for such things.

There is some kind of magic In this, against which it’s not possible to resist. The thing that served to previous generations and still works, in excellent condition, causes respect to the creator, the engineer, the user that saved it, the seller, that cleaned and repaired it. For some reason I always want to give a second, and maybe a third chance to these things.

Papperipparappo

Me and Leone settled down in vintage apartment in the center of Milan, with high ceilings, wooden windows, walls of sand and pebbles, old ceramic, about which I will write a separate post. The apartment – a paradise for a pack rat like me, here any object of junk “relics” any place you will put is in its place. Considering these conditions I couldn’t resist an impulse to visit one of the largest flea markets that I’ve ever seen.

Milan holds several big flea markets, all one / two days. Large flea markets are interesting because sellers do only this professionally, they know everything about the junk, restore “antiques” and they know in what buyers will be interested. Because of this there are mainly really sensible specimens are represented, and quite a bit rubbish, but then there are two disadvantages for me – a lot of antiques (I’m not a fan) and a lot of replicas (look like the old, but new inside, no romance). Usually I prefer small flea markets. Rental cost of places are cheap and sellers are not very professional, they are selling everything they could find, sometimes frank rubbish in which you should insistently try to look for treasure, but this is actually the pleasure. But the biggest flea market in Milan on the Grand Canal (Naviglio Grande) is legendary, it worth to go there just for the atmosphere, and likely weekend when it took place was clear and with beautiful sunny weather.

Flea market on the Grand Canal is held every last Sunday of the month and is called Mercatone dell’Antiquariato. For this market they close traffic in the whole district, and the entire channel and small streets around are filled in with the sellers of vintage furniture, clothing, household items, antiques, coins, stamps and other treasures.

The plan was to go to the flea market in the morning, and to drive to the festival of street food for lunch. Of course, in the morning we overslept (Sunday!), and got out of the house only for lunch. Oh, those beautiful days when the autumn is warm and sunny. In Moscow these days are maximum a week. But in Milan it is possible to enjoy them a couple-three weeks. We took bikes and rode to the festival to have a lunch.

Food fest 1

Festival street food is a field with 40-50 stalls offering mainly Italian cuisine, there are many of Southern cuisine representatives, a large number of manufacturers of home-brewed beer. I must pay tribute to the Italians (in my understanding they are conservative in food too much), the biggest queue was to the Greek pavilion. Asian cuisine almost not presented, giant pavilion with American fast food, hung round with flags, incredible sandwiches with octopus, arrosticino.

Me and Leone took couple of home-brewed beer and stand in two long queues: for the sandwiches with octopus, it was difficult to pass them, because these very octopuses were so attractively fried on grill. They were simply cut into pieces, sprinkled with lemon juice and put into the bread. The second kiosk, which we didn’t missed, was with arrosticino, skewers of small pieces of lamb.

Food fest 2

Well-fed and in a playful because of beer mood we went to the flea market.

Our visit began with the edges of the market, where space is usually cheaper and stuff is easier, but it was clear already here, that these comrades don’t have simple stuff at all.

Flea market 1

Firstly furniture. Unbelievable representatives of 50s-60s, restored, usable, chairs of all types and design, incredible tables, chairs, cabinets, lamps. What to say if there is conducted the world’s largest furniture exhibition in Milan. Milan is a place of power for furniture manufacturers.

Then the objects of Italian life. Here I didn’t know where to look: the plates, pots and pans, keys and locks, coffee pots-vases-pitchers, a paradise for me!

And sellers who specialize in one thing. Sunk deep into my mind a large place of the old chronometers and sorted by a small box clock-faces, hands, buttons, chains, and a small space with retro lamps.

Flea market 3

But to go to the flea market and do not set goals to yourself is a bit boring, because it is necessary to look for something to elbow deep into boxes with old utensils. I’ve been looking for a small furniture handles. And it turned out that the we need them in house, because someone twisted knobs out of our bed, and we need something to replace them. I have three, and, unfortunately, still looking for the fourth. And also all the spades-mixers in the kitchen needs some glass to put them in, we decided to look for. Nothing was found, but the next time we will find them, is not a big deal.

Flea market 4

However without doing some shopping it’s boring too. I do not like the decorative stuff, which you can’t use in everyday life, but in this dish felt in love at the first sight! And Leone went home with nice Choo-Choo twins with small trains. Everybody is happy!

We didn’t walk around the whole market, too huge. Now I’m planning to find something smaller and more rubbish, the handle is still needed.

Principessa

A glass of wine…. at Valtellina

I am making a pause in the series of posts about our trip from Bergamo to Istanbul to tell you about our Sunday at “Mobergno in Cantina” (http://morbegnoincantina.it/), promising that soon we will publish the third, and final, part of the post about Albania (part 1, part 2).

Probably many of you already know the event, but I think it is important to share some aspects. For about 3 weekends in September and October you can visit a number of wineries (true cellars, underground) between Morbegno and towns across the valley , called “costiera dei Cech”, and make a series of tastings of wines from Valtellina and typical products of the area.

Morbegno5

More or less two weeks in advance me and Principessa made a detailed plan, we saw it was impossible to book a hotel, all sold out of course, and so in order to avoid driving after drinking we chose to use the train Milan-Tirano with stop at the station of Morbegno; we called Hedi and Luana and planned to leave with the train of 10:20 AM (arriving at destination in less than two hours) and come back with the train of 9:20 PM. Obviously nothing went according the plan, but for people who have read our other post, this will not be a news.

So our friend Hedi slept in our apartment in Milan and Luana reached us by train from Bergamo in the morning, having to wait for the bed that the legendary Giampiero presented us for the guest room (for the happiness of Hedi who the night before suffered on the uncomfortable sofa bed in the living room) we decided to go with the train of 12:20, good choice because we reached Mobergno just right for the opening of the cellars.

The train ride is great, for those who have never traveled this railroad, recommend it, also just to take a relaxing trip, the part before Lecco retraces part of the towns mentioned by Manzoni (one of fathers of the Italian language, author of “I promessi sposi”). After Lecco you will be amazed, the train hurtling close to the lake, in a series of tunnels and breathtaking views, climbing up to Colico, and then in wide Valtellina.

Tickets can be bought in front of the train station, but we were wise to buy online the Red Trail, avoiding a long cue, we went to dedicated desk for online reservation and in a few minutes we got the glass with a special holder to put around the neck.

Morbegno1

Morbegno is a very nice town, especially during this season, where the colors of autumn, the smell of wood and the smoke from the chimneys give it a charm all its own. The history of Morbegno is virtually unknown until the early Middle Ages, and then characterized by a series of wars, massacres, occupations, between Milan, Swiss, French, Spanish, the Church and then the plague (the same Narrated by Manzoni in the same book), the Austrian rule, and in 1845 the annexation to Italy.

After a short walk to the center began our tour with the cellar number one, Nico Barbee, the one with the white and sparkling wines. I tell the truth, not as an expert, but as a man who appreciates the wine, nothing special, but great food, in all the wineries we enjoyed the excellent Bisciola, a sweet bread with dried fruit, fantastic Bitto cheese typical of the area and bresaola, salami popular in the valley. We also bought a Slinzega, kind of sausage, which is still in our refrigerator. If you are over there you have to eat: Pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta with cheese, herbs, potatoes and other vegetables), Taragna (polenta with cheese typical), Sciatt (balls of wheat and local cheese fries) and Taroz.

Morbegno4

I really enjoyed this tour, after the Whites we started with the Reds: Valtellina Superiore, Sassella, Grumello, Valgella, Inferno, to finish with reserves and Sforzato. I personally love Valtellina and its wines, I believe that the mountain gives to the Nebbiolo grapes a distinctive taste and, even for those who are beginners with wine, the route will be interesting, the sommeliers from AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) are friendly and will explain you in easy way the characteristics of these wines and answer your questions, even the most naive, both in Italian and in English. If you’ve never tasted it is the right time to take a trip to the cellars, or if you prefer, go to the supermarket or wine shop or on the Internet and order a few bottles. If you will accompany the meat or a risotto with a full-bodied wine from Valtellina success is assured.

The day finished rapidly, due to a logistic problem me and Princess anticipated our return to Milan, without being able to visit all the wineries. Not bad anyway, at home we prepared a nice sauce for pasta with onion, tomato and parsley, later Luana and Hedi joined us, and we had a fantastic evening.

I will not bore you with tons of information, Valtellina is a fantastic place, the food is great, unspoiled nature, easy to reach, you can make a lot of activities, including hiking and skiing … What are you still doing at the computer, prepare the suitcase!

Reading Tips:

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina_superiore_Grumello

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina_superiore_Sassella

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina_superiore_Inferno

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valtellina

A (long) day in Albania – Part 2

As I told in the previous post in the morning we left Shkodra to head towards Lake Koman. Initially we drove across a beautiful highway, surrondend by towns, bars and retailers of used Mercedes. The idea was to reach Koman by car, take the ferry to get to Fierze, look for a place to sleep in that area between lakes and mountains and the next day reach Tirana, or if we had arrived late for the ferry, sleeping in Koman and catch the ferry the following day.

Left the highway we continued on SH25, a sign indicated that there were only 32Km to our destination. Our legendary Fiat 500 was climbing the mountains in this place out of reality. If you decide that you want to spend some time with no contact with civilization, this is the place for you, we have crossed kilometers of mountain road near a great river, blue with mirror effect, and trees, trees and more trees. Sometimes an isolated house or a village of a few houses, fenced, tidy and where everyone has fruit trees, vegetables, and animals.
Now you may wonder why such a place near the highway is so isolated, simple, the road is horrible, sometimes there is the asphalt, sometimes no, no shoulder, the asphalt slippery goes straight down the mountains, holes so big that you can take a bath inside them, and the closer you get to Koman is worse, it takes about 2 hours driving reckless, plus some (pleasant) unexpected meetings like this:

Albania4

Once I established a relationship with herd of goats (is correct to say herd of goats, or the herd is for cows is only? Perhaps a flock of goats, or this is only for sheeps?) and politely asked them to move away from the roadway, everything went smoothly until the “country” of Koman, along the way we met a large fenced area with barbed wire, which we later found out to be a mine and a series of large circles formed by rubber pipes in the water, which still we do not know the purpose; of course we stopped several times to admire the view and take some pictures:

Albania3

The last stretch of road start from Koman and climbs uphill on a narrow road remnant of a quarry, made from large stones (this is the only dangerous part of the road, where you have to go extremely slow), is near a high dam monitored by security agents dressed in a funny uniform and armed with a vintage firearm with the wooden handle. Near the dam, a tunnel carved into the mountain takes you to a parking lot where ferries depart.

Just parked the car a kind girl asked us in perfect Italian if we needed information, I asked in English about ferry, to allow even Principessa to understand, and in a good English it was explained us that because of the level too low the of lake, the ferry could not leave, it that day, and following 2 or 3 for sure, but that if we wanted we could do a private tour by boat, without car, and without going up to Fierze, at a price much higher than the ferry.

During a first comparison we smelled a rat, we thought that the ferry had already left, and that for this girl was better to sell us a private boat tour rather than make us wait the next day and take the ferry .. Ferry being used from local to carry everything, that for sure is cheap ..

We went back to the town and we asked other people about the ferry departure time, and all advised us to ask to pier because there was low level of water in the lake, so we were untrusting this girl, but she was honest … Here came the despair, we had come all this way with the horrible road certainty of not having to go back again, plus we were really curious about this trip on this ferry passing through lands untouched by any road, where the time stopped long time ago, where people do not have “heard” the Italian occupation or the German one, or Communism, or the modernization of these days; they live in the same way, in nature, thanks to the hard work regardless of Saturday and Sunday with the days marked only by sun and by night and the moon to indicate the seasons and the day to sow and reap.

I realize now that I have written a papyrus, am I long-winded? If yes, tell me, it’s the first time I am writing a blog, I’m not an expert ..

Always with a smile we went back, towards Tirana! But this I’ll tell you in the next post

A (long) day in Albania – Part 1

**Just a reminder, I am writing in English for fun)

On September 18th at 04:00a AM we left Montenegro, because of an unwanted meeting (we will tell about this in another post), and at five in the morning we started our unique, long and wonderful day in Albania accompanied by the call of the Muezzin, starting from the minarets, spread amplified in the beautiful valleys surrounding us, making the sunrise magic.

Our first stop was Shkodra, we arrived in the town too early, we had a walk in the desert center, and then we parked along the road to the castle, where Principessa had  a good sleep, and I’ve read “Siberian Trilogy” from Nicolai Lilin (which apparently is a “liar” https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolai_Lilin, I was sad when I discovered it, and I am suffering, I do not know whether or not to buy the last two books; sorry I can’t find any article in English about him).

Shkodra or Shkodër for the Albanians, Scutari for us Italians, is an ancient city, the cradle of Albanian culture, on the shores of homonymous lake and often known as the “Florence of the Balkans” because here the press arrived early and was taken The first photograph of the entire Balkan area (1858): http://shkoder.net/en/ . Looks like we made the tour of the “Florence of something”, in this post I wrote about the Florence of Bulgaria, I swear it was not wanted!

At about 9 am we ventured into the center, we immediately noticed that most of the cars were Mercedes from ’90s, that’s Albania! The main street is super romantic, a series of restaurants, small shops and cafes surrounding the street, and tables crowded with people concentrated on smoking and drinking coffee give color to the pedestrian area. The thing that certainly impressed me was the extreme kindness of the people, as the waiter who has worked hard to make us an omelette because the chef had not yet arrived, then asking if it was good (and it was), or the guy who offered us to take a picture, and got scared seeing photo getting out of the camera, confessing that he had never seen a snapshot:

Albania1

Also in the center was being the beer festival, sponsored by the national beer “Stela”, which we did not get to try for a number of reasons: start drinking at 9 am is not recommended, we were going to drive , we were uninsured because the green card does not cover this nation and insurance office near the borderwas close and mainly all the stands were closed. For the curious, this is the link of the brewery: http://www.stefani-co.al/.

The city is very accurate, even the fences of the yards are decorated and parks are full of strange sights, such as giants Chupa Chups:

Albania2

In the morning as well we left towards Koman, with the idea of taking a ferry and sail up the valley above a breathtaking water views, we thought we had the day well planned, but something unexpected was around the corner. I’ve already written too much, I will tell this adventure in the next post. For now one anticipation:

KomanLake

Drvengrad and Life is a Miracle

If I knew that such a place exists, I could not sleep without visiting it

The choice of a road from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina was obvious when on side note of Lonely Planet suddenly we found the village of Emir Kusturica, which he built for the filming of his Life Is a Miracle. What can I say? We are going there!
Drvengrad1

The village is allocated on the slope of Mokra Gora, in one hour drive from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the road is not in the least main, mountains, lakes, 2-3 hours from Sarajevo, 4-5 hours from Belgrade, only pleasure to go.

The description of the guide was short, so it was not quite clear what we could find there. Evaluated our expectations: Commercial outrage, organized by the locals on the remains of luxury, or completely abandoned wasteland.

It was nice to see that a group of very friendly people takes care about the the village, that the village works not only for the curious travelers like me and Leone, but also as a school of cinema and each year hosts International Film Festival Kustendorf, the special features of which – the intentionally missed red carpet.

Kustendorf

20-25 wooden houses, there in addition to the guest rooms is a cinema also (above all!), showing Kusturica movies, couple of kitsch restaurants with a very good local food, super friendly waiters and old American music, where we dined, library, church, pool.

On the streets named in honour of personal heroes of Kusturica (Tesla, Maradona, Che, Fellini…) are cars from the film, local vendors sell souvenirs in small kiosks. Best souvenir for us – wool socks, of course. On the wall of one of houses there are portraits of Gagarin, Maradona and Che.

Drvengrad2

Incredible place with an amazing atmosphere. Such an atmosphere I felt only later in Sarajevo, as the replacement of which Kusturica built for himself this village.

Principessa