Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey

Turkey was my first venture into the Arab world and it was as vibrant as expected.

I aim to celebrate each birthday in a different part of the world and this year was not any different – I celebrated my last year in my 20s in Turkey!

Istanbul has the buzz and hustle of most big cities across the world. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the bazaars – I love markets. I usually hate crowds but I can abide the madness of a good market, I am after all a true Lagosian. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is apparently one of the biggest covered markets in the world. It is crammed full of stalls, merchants, their wares, shoppers and tourists. The Grand Bazaar has on offer a wide variety of things and I was especially taken over by the spices and teas! Everyauthentic market always has an abundance of merchants feverishly calling out for you, and it’s no different when at the Grand Bazaar. The only thing is the soliciting for customers turns weird when it happens to be three Black women (me and my friends) who are the buyers. The sellers, all men (I don’t recall seeing any female sellers) kept calling us various female African-American celebrities – from “Beyonce” to “Rihanna” 🥴. It’s getting old (was the same in Greece too).

 

Something I highly recommend experiencing whilst in Istanbul is to take the 45min (about, there is a fast boat and a much slower one. We took the faster option) boat ride to Buyukada Island. It is the largest of the 9 Prince’s Islands. Its a serene dream! It has no cars except working vehicles like trucks, and I only saw a couple of those. The main mode of moving around especially for tourists is by horse and carriage. The houses are huge and terraced. There is greenery everywhere. It looked like what I imagine a Caribbean Island to be. Some people find the Island depressing and indeed it is an Island that feels trapped in time but I found it to be a respite from the bustle of Istanbul main land.

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We also visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia started out as a Greek Orthodox cathedral AD 537 and at that time was an architectural feat! The Blue Mosque seemed to be undergoing some sort of renovation when we went in May, 2019 but I still found it worth seeing. Especially memorable was me and my friend trying to sneak in with what is considered inappropriate clothing and being caught swiftly by one of the guards who yelled “dress problem!” I suppose we wouldn’t have gotten far anyways even if we made it into the mosque. Thankfully, there is a place nearby to rent long skirts and scarves for free. A more sensible approach is to plan ahead and wear a long skirt/trousers and bring a scarf along. That way you avoid having to wear borrowed, possibly rarely washed, oversized garments 🤷🏾‍♀️.

On one of the evenings in Istanbul we went on a boat cruise. It had belly dancers and whirling dervishes and a very fun MC. My advice with this is to pay more to go on a classier cruise. Ours, though fun, was a bit over-packed and the food could have been better. We saw other nicer and quieter boats pass by and wished we’d paid a bit more to go on one of those.

Also, we had a Turkish bath at one of the oldest Hammams in the city and felt like new people afterwards! There are several things you really must do whilst in Turkey such as having delicious Turkish delights and visiting bazaars, another must-do is having a Turkish bath, it is purely mandatory. This is the one we went to, which I highly recommend.

CAPPADOCIA

The highlight of my time in Turkey was in Cappadocia. Cappadocia is a semi-arid region in Turkey which is about half an hours flight from Istanbul. It felt like being on Mars… with scores hot air balloons (instead of space ships) floating around. For most people, Cappadocia would fit on their ‘World’s Remarkable Places’ list. Jutting out of the ground all over Cappadocia are conical natural rock/sand formations. It does make you feel like you have left planet earth.

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There are various tours of Cappadocia and there is quite a lot to see from sprawling underground cities that hid thousands of refugees to churches carved into rocks. The popular tours are named after colours and I went on the Green Tour which is a day tour starting at 9am and ending at 6pm. You are picked up and dropped off at your hotel. On this tour I went to the Goreme Open Air Museum, Pigeon Valley, a Turkish Jewellery shop (featuring the most beautiful precious and semi-precious stones), a gift shop (which I am sure the tour company struck some sort of deal with which meant they dropped scores of tourists at the shop everyday as an ‘opportunity to try Turkish sweets’) and Ihlara Valley. I actually spent most of my birthday trekking though the Ihlara Valley, which is the second largest canyon in the world. The trek ended in a restaurant selling not great food, but the outdoor seating by a long stream in the depths of the valley made it bearable.

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Cappadocia is very famous for its cave hotels and we stayed in one of them. Again, it was quite the experience, being shrouded around by cool rock walls in the belly of the caves (ok, I exaggerate, not really the belly of the caves like the photo above of me in one of the many underground cities, more like at the precipice of a cave…)but I found it quite calming and grounding.

Istanbul and especially, Cappadocia were a delight and Cappadocia really did feel like an outer-worldly experience. Turkey is truly a city offering many worlds; it straddles both Asia and Europe,  Christianity and Islam. It’s spices and teas are reminiscent of the east and empires long gone. It truly is an exquisite ride on a pendulum that swings in many directions.

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Budapest, Hungary – The City of Baths

Budapest is definitely the most unlikely city I have visited so far. By unlikely, I mean it was never on my “top ten” list of places to go and it seems not to be on the list of many people as my sister’s exclamation of “what are you doing in Budapest??”when I sent pictures to my siblings whatsapp group, shows.

The Danube

In short, Budapest was not planned. My friend and I had some other destination we wanted to visit, but the cost of accommodation and flights put us off. Just when we were about to pause on travelling at all, Budapest happened.

Heroes Square (Hosok Tere)

Kossuth Lajos ter


We were in Budapest in the middle of June – the heat was debilitating. However, thanks to the many baths and spas that Budapest is famous for – cooling off was never far away.

The first thing that struck me about Budapest was how manageable the crowd was. For a capital city, it didn’t feel as overwhelming as London but still managed to feel exciting. The people were also very polite, from strangers on the road to hotel staff.

Budapest isn’t the cheapest city I have been to but it is definitely not expensive either. It took me a while to get used to the conversion rate, for some reason, and truly understand the value of things but I can say it was a moderately affordable city. For me, Bogota, is the cheapest city I’ve been to where I would go on a 45mins Uber ride and pay less than £10!

Baths

Gellerts


We had the opportunity to visit 2 thermal baths whilst in Budapest – Gellerts and Szechenyi. Gellerts bath is elegant whilst Szechenyi is hip. Szechenyi was full of young people in their early twenties whilst Gellerts was more family friendly. Szechenyi was bigger and had glum, wet changing stalls that seemed to go on forever, my friend likened it them to prison cells and I don’t disagree, Gellerts, on the other hand is smaller and it’s changing stalls bore little similarities to a penitentiary. I won’t suggest one over the other as they were both fun and relaxing just with different vibes. Szechenyi’ yellow buldings is especially picturesque.
Jewish District

Budapest’s Jewish district is the soul of the city and you immediately feel a shift in vibe when you get there. The second biggest synagogue in the world, and the largest in Europe, is located here and so are several boutique restaurants and street art. Where the street art is, is usually where the most passion in a city lies – at least this is what I believe.

Cuisine

In relation to cuisine, I will say as a legit foodie, who has eaten food from different cultures, that the Hungarian delicacies did not disappoint. My favourite was this pancake stuffed with chicken soaked in a paprika stew. Typical of how I relate to international foods, I do not remember the name but I hope the description is crisp enough to help you find it if you ever go to Hungary. Goulash was also a staple in most restaurants we went to and is definitely something to eat in Hungary.

I can recommend 3 restaurants in order of amazingness which must not be missed if you’re in Budapest:

Bobyglar – this restaurant fell into our laps as we wondered away from Hosok Tere, a square with statues of important figures in Hungary’s history. It’s similar in structure, and its location centrally at a big crossroads, to Trafalgar Square in London. Of course, it was nowhere near as chaotic as Trafalgar Square but it was still beautiful and full of history.

Anyways, we wandered away from this monument and staggered hungrily into the hobbit-home-looking building to find a nicely furnished restaurant which had an outside seating area that we immediately settled into. The staff were top-notch and I will give not just the delicious food 5 stars, but also the service we received.

Cafe New York – Tagged the most beautiful cafe in the world, this is an absolute must-visit. I have never been to a restaurant that opulent and extravagant, let alone a cafe that exquisite. You might actually be intimidated by the setting and assume your pocket won’t survive the visit. For a place as beautiful as a palace, the Cafe is unbelievably affordable. It’s also a great place for taking unrivalled photos.

Mazel Tov – Tucked in the Jewish district is this Israeli restaurant which has sections outdoors whilst their indoor area is covered with clear canopies. It is teeming with greenery so that even when you are inside, you feel like you are outside. The food was was delightful – I had a sharwama that tasted authentic, fresh and delicious. To make the already charming atmosphere more special, there was live music by this guy with a guitar who sang heart-wrenching love songs all night.

Budapest is a truly beautiful city! The wide streets, yellow trams, Jewish district and Moorish architecture made Budapest feel idyllic and like a cross breed between Portugal, San Francisco and Tel Aviv (none of which I’ve been to, but Pinterest pictures tell you a lot).

Budapest is not very diverse, in the sense that non-White people are a rarity, so my friend and I were stared at quite a bit, but we have become used to this as we often find ourselves in situations where we stand out. If you’ve travelled through most countries in Europe as a Black person, you won’t find the stares in Budapest shocking. In fact, the stares were milder than I have experienced in other countries such as in areas of Greece or the South of Italy were I almost stopped traffic.
Budapest was an unexpected trip that has now become an unforgettable experience.

Venice, through the eyes of a Zimgirl

Hello All, 

This post, about the beautiful Venice, is a piece by my friend and fellow travel blogger, Goitsimang Makanda! You can find her witty blog on WordPress here. I am sure you’ll enjoy this post and it’s colourful pictures as much as I did!

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Venice is one of those cities that I’ve spent years drooling over the pictures and reading travel blogs about. Its waterways and bridges have long been plastered on my Pinterest boards. I just had to see it in person and my 27th birthday presented the perfect opportunity for a cultured weekend break.
Venice is a marvel of engineering, perfectly situated across a group of 118 small islands, separated by canals and linked together by bridges. This city of water is nothing short of a dream land.


I arrived at midnight and even under moonlight, you could still appreciate Venice’s untampered beauty. I stepped off the ferry and was confronted by the breath-taking beauty and romance of the city. Under the moonlight, the buildings were gleaming, standing tall in their ornate grandeur. It felt like I’d stepped back in time. The city is oozing with character and authenticity. There is no pretentiousness. I completely fell in love and our walk through the narrow lanes to our hotel filled me with so much excitement. I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise so I could see the city in its full glory.

I booked to spend 3 full days in Venice. The spontaneity in the way the trip was planned meant that I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do or see till I got there. Luckily, the owner of the gorgeous guest house I stayed in was more than happy to drop her pearls of wisdom about all things fabulous in Venice. This invaluable local insight, in conjunction with the help of the Get Your Guide app helped us make the most of our time there.

So, instead of boring you with how we woke up every morning and had breakfast on a terrace overlooking Venice’s tiled roofs and gorgeous canals, I thought I’d just give you a breakdown of the highlights. 

1. The three-island tour.

I usually HATE organised tours. It’s that feeling of being a herded sheep I cannot stand. But this one was so worth it due to the limited time we had.We used the Get Your Guide app to book the tour and it was perfect. All the tour company did was to drop us off at the location and then they told us what time to come back, so we were free to wander, marvel and explore. 

First, we visited the Murano Island where famous Murano Glass makers can be found. There we had the opportunity to watch a glassblower practice his craft, followed by a tour of the workshop gallery, showcasing breathtaking glass items made by the Master Glass Blowers. It’s amazing what you can do with glass, from the fluorescent coloured chandeliers to the grand floral mirrors, each petal and leaf painstakingly crafted in glass.

Next, we went to the island of my dreams. Burano. Imagine a rainbow just exploded and covered all the houses in bright happy colours. That’s Burano! The houses on this island are an eclectic mix of broad and vibrant colours. Every single house was the backdrop for a stunning picture. 

The last island was Torcello, which had some of the coolest bridges I’d seen in my time in the region. Torcello also had historical churches which are well preserved and I enjoyed the best fast food I’ve ever had there! 


2. The Libreria Acqua Alta

As an avid reader and lover of bookshops and libraries, I couldn’t leave Venice without visiting the Acqua Alta library. It was everything and more. The eclectic mixture of books was a reader’s dream. What makes the bookshop so unique and special is the presentation of the books. In the centre of the store, you find a gondola packed with books and as you walk about the store you will also find bathtubs filled with books. My favourite pastime is sitting in the bath with a good book. I have so many water-stained books at home so seeing this literature filled baths made my heart smile. 


3. The Gondola

“You can’t go to Venice without going for a Gondola ride” – That’s what everyone back home was saying to me when I told them I was in Venice. Personally, I didn’t see what the hype was about, it’s an overpriced ride on a long boat seeing the exact same sights I can appreciate by foot. But anyway, peer pressure got the best of me and I gave in. We found an experience deal on the Get Your Guide app for €27. 

I’m glad I had the experience. It was the perfect goodbye to this incredible city. Everything looked so different when gazing from the water. It was very peaceful and serene as we floated through the canals. The views were spectacular, including our hunky gondola driver (I’m sure that’s not what they are called?)! What they say about Italian men is true! Phwoaaarr!!!


 4. Getting Lost in Paradise

The super cool thing about Venice is that it’s a pedestrian-friendly city. There are so many picturesque and narrow alley ways and bridges connecting different parts of the city that it’s easy to get lost exploring. In almost every square you find something new. A cluster of unique shops or cafes, or my favourite, old grand buildings and churches with the most amazing doors. I loved wandering into the residential areas, seeing the clothes hanging up high and seeing native Venetians go about their day. They must feel like fish in a bowl. Tourist eyes peering into their private courtyards with vulgar curiosity. I’d have loved an opportunity to go into one of their homes. 

Now, before you start thinking we are uncultured – we of course also visited St Mark Square. How could we not? 

It was as incredible as the guide books said it was. 

I easily can rave about the beauty of Venice all day long but I must highlight at least one thing that annoyed me: Venice is EXPENSIVE!!! Getting food, particularly in the more central parts, is costly. Every restaurant seems to have an obligatory 12% service charge (but I must say the service is top notch, everywhere I went I felt welcomed and the waiters were consistently attentive) and an extra charge, ‘Coperto’, which is basically a charge for you sitting down. The mistake we made was going to eat in St Mark’s Square, as its more central, it’s pricier. I suggest eating at around lunch time as the lunch menus are cheaper. On a positive note, the food was incredible, I can still taste the mouth-watering carbonara I had on my first day. And the Bellini!!! OMG, that was incredible.

Oooooh and the freaking pigeons. OMG! Now everyone who knows me knows I have a profound phobia of winged creatures. The St Mark’s Square area is infested with the flying rats and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw people having them perch on them as they posed for pictures! One particularly distressful episode was when I was happily enjoying my Lasagne on one of the terraces and the woman on the adjacent table decided it was a good idea to start feeding her bread to the already obese pigeons. They were flapping all around my legs and almost gave me a heart attack. So, if you’re like me and you hate pigeons then avoid eating around St Mark’s Square.
 Other than those minor annoyances, Venice is spectacular and I highly recommend you go. 

London Series – Part 2, Kew Gardens

So I began my London Series with Columbia Flower Market and it is honestly a coincidence that the long overdue instalment also has a lot of flowers and plants involved.

I visited Kew Gardens with my mother a while back and we totally underestimated how huge the Gardens are. I recommend at least half a day to fully enjoy the wonders within the Gardens!

I truly felt like Alice in Wonderland the whole time 💐🌼🌻💃🏾

Enough of the talking and enjoy the sights from magnificent Kew Gardens!





Trieste, Italy – Vista to the Adriatic

It’s pretty obvious that I love Italy. I mention it more than a few times in this blog. However, I have only been to the South of Italy which I write about here. Trieste was my first trip to the North.


First of, I should say it was a work trip and as such I had very little time to explore but I did do some wandering and eating of course.

Trieste is a sea side town on the coast of the Adriatic. Being in Trieste was a bit of a jolt to my system as the only experience I have of Italy is of the South which is a bit less urban. Trieste felt like a thriving little city with the buzz that comes with being in a city. Like the South, it toptogrpahy undulates and in the area I was based, near Piazza d’unita, we were encompassed with hills on one side and the stretching Adriatic on the other – authentically Italian. 

Speaking of Piazza Unita d’Italia, it is one of the tourists sights in Trieste. It is the biggest Piazza I have ever seen, it is a sprawling expanse that strategically faces the Adriatic. Piazza Unita is apparently the biggest square in Europe located by the sea. The Piazza is a hub and is decorated with restaurants and shops so you can spend some time here. 

I don’t skimp on making sure I eat well in a new place and Trieste was definitely not any different though I was so busy. In fact, because I was so busy it was even more important that I ate well. I have 4 recommendations from my short stay in Trieste of places to definitely visit, one I have never been to myself as it was closed when I wanted to but it comes hughly recommended. 

  • Grom – An absolutely amazing gelaterria located in the shopping centre of Trieste. It is bucket-list calibre ice cream. If you are in Trieste go to Grom. I hear there is also one located in London, so I don’t need to go to Trieste to enjoy Grom….

  • Barottolo – A pizzeria serving delicious pizzas, pastas and even other more English dishes such as steak and chips. The food was really good and affordable. We went there twice in the space of 2 days – that says a lot.

Gnocchi and shrimps

  • Sante – This restaurant came highly recommended by certified foodies in the conference I was attending so I was understandably disappointed that I missed this spot. Doesn’t open on Sundays, hence why I didn’t get a chance to eat here. 

Venice is about an hour and a half away from this town so you can definitely come by Trieste and wander in the fantastic Piazza Unita which is a perfect vista unto the Adriatic. 

Views from the Piazza and unto the Piazza…….

In the Piazza

Across the Piazza

Ship stays the night at Trieste


Ciao!

Geneva, Switzerland- The Peace-Maker

I got back from Geneva a few days ago having spent 4 days there with a friend. I had a great time despite the fear I had that the city would be too expensive! Now just to get the expense issue out of the way, I can say my friend and I both agreed that we didn’t find Geneva as expensive as we thought. This was not due to our frugality but the fact that we had been given hints and tips of places to eat by a friend. Food, aside accommodation, would have been our most expensive spend but we cooked most evenings and went to what my friend calls the Swiss Nandos twice – yeah it was that good.

As accommodation within Geneva is outrageously expensive we booked a hotel in France right across the Swiss border but only 15 mins away from the heart of Geneva! We stayed at Residence La Reserve hotel in Ferney-Voltaire which is to the east of France. It was still expensive compared to what a hotel room would cost for 4 nights in say, Athens, but it was the best we could find and it was a great place to stay. The hotel had a pool, steam room and gym which my friend and I used extensively. The staff were nice and those stationed at the reception all spoke English which was really handy as I do not speak French. Any French I do recollect from high school would sound nothing like French due to my woeful pronunciation any ways. A big bonus was the proximity of Carrefour, a huge supermarket chain, to the hotel. It was about a 5 mins walk away. We went there for food and just plain old sight seeing as it had everything you can ever need in life.

Everyday we took a bus from a stop 2 mins away from the  hotel into Geneva. Our itinerary played out like this;

  • UN Tour – On our first day we went to the UN and had a tour of the international organisation’s offices. It is a really well organised tour and for just about 12 Swiss Francs we were given a 1 hour tour of major rooms there like the Genral Assembly room and the Council Chambers, which was my favourite due to the breathtaking symbolic murals on the four walls and ceiling. The more modern Room XX, which had multi-coloured stalactites jutting from the ceiling, was also remarkable (we weren’t allowed to take pictures here as a meeting was going on). More impressive, is the world-changing meetings that have gone on in these rooms and the feeling of unity you do perceive as you walk the halls of the UN spotting people of all colours and creeds.

General Assembly room, UN Offices Geneva

Sprawling grounds of the UN Geneva

  • Broken Chair – Right across the UN is a 39 feet high 3-legged chair with its fourth leg broken off. It was built in opposition to land mines and cluster bombs. It’s consciously placed across the UN to remind world leaders of the dangers of these weapons.

  • After our time at the UN we walked into the heart of old town Geneva which really is a stark contrast to the area the UN is located. The Old Town of Geneva has more beautiful and older architecture whilst the newer areas of Geneva contain modern buildings which look like they’ve been built in the 60’s. This newer part of Geneva is underwhelming but the old town is gorgeous. En route to the old town, we walked by Geneva’s famous lake, Lake Geneva, which also flows into French territory. Lake Geneva is one of the largest lakes in Europe. Spurting from a corner of the lake, in the heart of Geneva,  you cannot miss Jet d’Eau (water jet in English). This is one of Geneva’s notable landmarks and it can be seen through out the city as the water reaches an altititude of 460ft!

Jet d’eau, Lake Geneva and I

  • A friend recommended we ate at Chez Ma Cousine, which she labelled Swiss Nando’s. Now, for those who sadly don’t know, Nando’s is a  restaurant chain that serves epic Mozambican-Portuguese peri-peri chicken. It is really popular in the UK. Chez Ma Cousine did feel like a Swiss version of Nando’s as the chicken was probably the best chicken I have had in a while!! I am Nigerian, I eat all kinds of spiced-up, creatively flavoured chicken, so it’s a big deal when I say the chicken was amazing! The restaurant is also really cute and located up a hill, so once you do get to it even if you weren’t hungry before you can be sure you’d be starving.

  • Mount Saleve – It’s almost sacrilegious to go to Switzerland and not go up a mountain. The closest range to Geneva is Mount Saleve which is about 25mins from Geneva’s old town on the bus. Mount Saleve is actually located in France, as said earlier, our hotel was also in France. Borders between the two countries are really flexible and allow very free movement, at a point I started getting confused as to what country I actually was in at any given moment. At the base of the mountain is a telepherique or cable car, which steeply ascends unto Saleve. The view from the top really is breathtaking, you see all of Geneva, and understand why Saleve is nicknamed Geneva’s balcony. Saleve is great for paragliding, hiking and biking and in the colder months, winter sports can be enjoyed as well. There are two restaurants at the top  to satisfy hungry bellies. One can take a more adventurous route up Saleve such as hiking or walking, but we took the more comfortable route on this particular trip. 

Walk towards the base of Saleve, following the cable car signs

Cable car station

Geneva offered a composition I often hope for in cities – it’s a vibrant modern city with a rich history surrounded by outstanding natural wonders
It’s the best of worlds; natural and man-made, old and new.

Mont Blanc, Geneva

Grecian Times

I count myself incredibly blessed because as at the time I visited Greece, I had slashed the top two countries off my long list of places to go. Italy was the first.

I was becoming a year older and I was sure Greece was the best location to enter a new year in my life and it was!

Athens, Nafplio and the Island of Zakynthos were the stops in Greece and it turned out be a perfect mix between urban, idyllic and touristic.

Athens is a lot to take in and a shock to the system – a clash of times. In the space of hours we were in ancient Greek ruins and then under subways inspecting the graffiti. From Monasteraki market, with its cool market vibes to Acropolis and its ancient ruins and history, Athens was a surprising city and not at all what I expected. Asides the ancient ruins there were also more modern ruins, deserted buildings, graffiti, boarded up windows. Greece was going through an economic downturn and Athens showed it clearly.

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View of Athens from Acropolis

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Athens

Life through my Iphone 1689

Acropolis

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Ancient ruins in Acropolis

We swiftly moved from hectic Athens to Nafplio which I was really looking forward to. Nafplio is a small sea side town in the Peloponnese. It was a much needed relief from the bustle of Athens, it was also mostly devoid of tourists when we went in mid May.

It’s a little town which still offers all you would hope to experience in Greece – ancient hilltop castles like the Palamidi which is 999 steps up on a hill(we took a bus up instead), deserted beaches with clear waters and also many chic restaurants and shops! It is also a good base from which to explore Epidaurus on a day trip.

Now Epidaurus is probably the best preserved Greek theatre in the world with a phenomenal view of the landscape of the Peloponnese. It has more or less perfect acoustics as any of the 14,000 people seated in the theatre could hear the actors regardless of their distance from the centre! It is truly amazing!

I cannot talk about my time in Nafplio without mentioning Nafsimedon hotel where my friends and I stayed. It is a gorgeous tiny boutique hotel in the centre of Nafplio. The building is just stunning and we stayed in a room with a mezzanine. I liked how cosy and luxurious it felt but it was still very affordable. I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone going to Nafplio.

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Epidaurus

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Greek Theatre at Epidaurus

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Palamidi Castle, Nafplio

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Palamidi Castle, Nafplio

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Modern ruins, Nafplio

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Nafplio

 

From Nafplio we headed to our last stop in Greece, Zakynthos. Zakynthos is an island tourist town in the Ionian Sea. The fact that it has its own international airport shows that it is a real tourist hive. It swarmed of English tourists and felt less like Greece and more like little England. It had all the shops geared towards tourists all selling more or less the same kind of mass produced merchandise. You will see menus here serving English breakfasts. Having just left idyllic and authentic Nafplio we had a jolt on coming to Zakynthos. It is a beautiful island and we got to go on a boat trip around the Island and swim in caves, lounge on a little island beach and just enjoy the sea. Our hotel was right in front of the ocean.

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Zakynthos – Boat trip

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Zakynthos – blue waters

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Zakynthos – the waters were so clear we could see the bottom of the sea, which is farther down than it looks here.

Greece, like Italy, is bigger than I imagined when fantasizing about my first trip and I really feel like I have only grazed the surface. There is so much more of Greece I would love to explore. However, the few days I spent in Greece were amazing, I was especially pleased that the whole trip was planned by my friends and I. We planned all the transportation from Athens to Nafplio to Zakynthos which was an adventure in itself as we hopped from bus to ferry to train. It gave our trip a more authentic feel to it. The whole trip was very authentic and true in the sense that we experienced various parts and sides of Greece!

Life through my Iphone 1780

Nafplio

The London Series – Part 1, Columbia Road Flower Market

London is a beautiful city, full of beautiful things, often cramped into one another.

Among all the cramped beauty is Columbia Road Flower Market which is located in East London. It is cramped full of myriad of colorful flowers with streams of people flowing through the sea of horticultural bliss. It is a photographers dream! But a claustrophobic person’s nightmare! But then again, most of London is a claustrophobic persons hell I would think.

If you are ever in London, whether or not you like flowers, pop by Columbia Road Flower Market, it’s open only on Sundays though.

Check out some of the pictures taken using my humble iPhone camera…

I also took a photograph of this beautiful wall art..cos I love random street/wall art.

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Vienna, Austria – The Enchanting City

Now Austria is my first venture to a non Mediterranean European country, asides the UK of course. Vienna has absolutely exquisite architecture dating from ages past. I was only in the city for a couple of days but I was in awe of the sculptures and grand opulent buildings from time gone by. It felt like I was in another era, another time, a time were the rich were extremely, grand , luxurious and ostentatious – at least I assume this from the effort, time and expertise that obviously went into these structures. In that sense, Vienna felt truly European. I remember going into a fashion retail store which looked more like a 15th Century Nobles closet than a regular clothes store in the 21st century. The elevator in the store was the most elaborate elevator I have ever been in, it looked so beautiful and intricate I could hardly believe it actually worked. 

I remember seeing a particular dark, imposing cathedral, with an eerie dome on my way back to the airport after my visit. The memory of this particular building has stayed with me.I regrettably, do not know what it is called or where it is located but the way I felt as I stared at it from my cab truly encapsulates how powerful the emotions these beautiful static buildings from another time can evoke.

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Exquisite elevator


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Hofburg Palace

My favorite sculptural piece was the Pestsaule, which is a bit morbid as it is a memorial of the plague epidemic of 1679 that ravaged the city. As I wondered round inner city Vienna, the structure grabbed my attention quite a ways away and of course I floated right towards it. The most enchanting thing about the sculpture were the clouds, I have never seen sculptural clouds. I mean making clouds, something so airy, puffy and weightless look so real using such concrete material is truly genius.

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Pestsaule

So, I was at Vienna at Christmas time and of course I went to the Christmas market located at the Rathaus (town hall) . It was buzzing with life and Christmas cheer. There was loads of food and I ate this delicious bratwurst hot dog. It was pretty cold but the joy and Christmas spirit concentrated at this market made the cold bearable! I love Christmas and visiting the Christmas market really made Christmas that year extra special.

I discovered I lived only a few minutes walk from the Sigmund Freud museum so I visited. It was really informative and engaging. The museum used to be Freuds offices and home in Vienna so I got to see his space and some of his personal effects.

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Sigmund Freud Museum, staring into Freud’s mirror

Interestingly, I also visited this Nigerian restaurant called Wazobia in Webergasse, Vienna. The food was delicious and authentic, although the restaurant itself is not stunning and is located in a basement with bad lighting. If you don’t mind a below average ambiance, you will enjoy good Nigerian food. The owner is also really pleasant.

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Wazobia restaurant, Webergasse

I should add Vienna is super easy to navigate, I was able to get around easily without my friend solely using a combination of google maps and an app called qando Vienna, which is also a GPS navigation platform.

Vienna was quite diverse in a European sense, I met people from Turkey, France, Poland, the UK, Ukraine and USA. It did feel very vibrant and also seemed to have an interesting arts scene. However, it is not diverse in a more international, global sense. I saw very few Black people (not that I expected Black people to be in abundance or Black people need to be in abundance EVERYWHERE) but I did not get many stares like I have in some other places. On one random occasion, a semi-drunk guy shouted “black girls” at my friend and I and kept staggering away. As a Black tourist, Vienna was definitely welcoming. 

Vienna is a charming city. I would love to visit more places in the city and also go to more rural parts of the country, as I know Austria also offers beautiful natural environments.

 

 

 

Taormina – Sicily’s Gem

Whilst I was in Italy, Reggio Calabria, I took a ferry over to Sicily, of course. You can see Sicily from the shores of Reggio Calabria, it beckons you and you have little or no choice but to ferry yourself over.

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Outside Taormina Giardini Station

Sicily is a large island and I only got to truly visit Taormina. I asked my friends back in mainland Italy – “Where would you suggest someone who is short on time go in Sicily?” – and every single person said Taormina.

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The journey from Reggio Calabria to Taormina is fairly straightforward and very scenic. I took the train from Messina to Taormina Giardini Train station. The train journey was mostly by  the beautiful Mediterranean, which had islands, great and small, jutting from its depths. It was breathtaking. The train ride in and of itself was a great experience. I hear the bus from Messina to Taormina offers even more of a scenic route!

Once at Taormina Giardini Train station, which is the most majestic train station I have ever alighted at as its background is the sea, the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab or a bus.

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Taormina Giardini Station

When I say the easiest way up to Taormina is a cab, I do mean it when I say “up”. You are literally spiraling up to the hill top town, farther and farther above the sea. There are unconvincing safety nets separating the cars climbing up to the little town from the seas below. This is both frightening and beautiful, beautiful because this results in clear, unobstructed panoramic views of the sea and even the famous ice-capped Mount Etna.

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Up and up into Taormina

Taormina may be small but its packed full of treasures. It felt like nothing I have experienced, it was so perfect that it felt I was in some fantasy film or book. It really is the stuff of dreams and hopes. You do feel that you are hundreds of feet high up as you can see the world far down below. Up in Taormina, you get a clear view of the intimidatingly massive active volcano, Mount Etna.

I found Taormina to be quite contradictory in the sense that it is a very stylish obviously tourist town full of all kinds of luxury and independent chic shops but also built atop centuries of architectural masterpieces and intimidating natural wonders. It’s alot of everything in high concentration.It didn’t take me long to see why it was so vehemently suggested as a must-see by my Italian friends. It is small enough to do in a day but full of excitement that you will leave feeling both fulfilled and curious as to what details you might have skimmed over or what beauty you might have overlooked. That is how packed full it is. And I definitely have to return as there where key things I didn’t experience such as the ancient Greek theater, called the “most dramatically situated Greek theater in the world” and the beach by the aptly named Isola Bella (beautiful Island).

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Piazza IX Aprile and the singing men

My two definite favorite experiences were the Piazza IX Aprile on Corso Umberto and the Garden of Villa Communale. Both have absolutely stunning views (no surprise). The Piazza is at the end of Corso Umberto and is a pleasant surprise as you come from the narrow street full of shops and restaurants unto this wide square with its checkered shiny floor, an old small chapel on your right and the sea to your left, hundreds of feet below. You can contentedly sit in the Piazza for hours, armed with gelato, without a care! When I went, there were a couple of men singing in the Piazza and these two adorable little girls where dancing round the square happily, the breeze from the sea in their hair. Perfection.

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Walking into Piazza IX Aprile

Taormina is quite expensive, so do be prepared to splash out a bit on restaurants and hotels. However, there are a few hostels which are really cheap accommodation if you are on a budget. Though you can do much in a day, I would suggest around 3 days for a thorough in-depth but relaxed experience.

Taormina for me was the most surreal place I have ever tread my feet. The combination of the town’s altitude; the consequent views, the people and  the food makes it a gem.