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

Bath – A Day in Georgian England

I have lived in South Oxfordshire for quite a few years now and it was only recently I got to know of the beautiful town Bath and its proximity to where I lived. From Didcot train station it is about 45 mins to Bath, and in an interesting way it feels like you’ve traveled back in time.

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Bath Cathedral

My Mum and I made a day trip there a while ago for the first time, and ever since, I have returned once more for the Bath Christmas market, which will be talked about in another post about Christmas markets.

When you realize Jane Austen lived in this town for a number of years you immediately understand why it feels so quintessentially English and proper! I had a long list of spots I  wanted us to visit whilst in Bath and ironically the top site, and where we spent all our time, was actually the famous Roman Baths.

The Roman Baths in Bath is one of the best preserved in the world and it is really something to behold. At the Roman Baths, you get an audio guide which is brilliant as it really takes you through what life was like for users of the public baths. My mum thoroughly enjoyed it and so do the 1 million visitors that come to see the Baths each year. We spent most of our time in Bath at the Roman Baths as we did not want to rush the experience!

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Inside the Roman Baths, 2 women dressed to suit the times.

After a long day walking in the footsteps of ancient Romans in what was equivalent to their social scene like a club/pub is today, we went to another of Bath’s famous offerings – Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House! The building is so English and wonky it is amazing. It is apparently one of the oldest houses in Bath. Within the eating house is also a musuem showing Sally Lunn’s original kitchen – it looks very well used, with soot and open stone.

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When I feel like really experiencing England, the way I naively grew up believing all of England is…I go to Bath. Asides the two places we visited, Bath has other places that I believe many tourists also visit such as the Pump Room Restaurant for high tea, The Circus (which I saw a glimpse of and is truly an architectural beauty) and the Jane Austen Center.

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Sally’s kitchen

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

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

Must-D0s when at a Travel Destination

There a few things I always try to do when I travel to a new place, I think they really help me connect and not be an insensitive aloof tourist mowing over culture and locals.

1.Befriend a local – where possible, I really like making friends with some of the local people. It’s a great way to really get to know a place and to get recommendations  of things off the tourist trail. They are always happy to spill all the secrets that will help you have a really wholesome trip. I have thankfully been able to either make new friends at places I have been or to already have friends who live there. It is really great when you get invited to people’s homes, eat with their family and hear stories that bring life to your journey and make you appreciate being where you are. In smaller communities, befriending a local also opens the gate for you to be accepted by the wider, perhaps more cautious community.

 

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Trying to befriend a local – Matana, Burundi

2. Run – If you are a runner, it goes without saying that you will be packing your running gear with you on travels. If you are not a runner, well you should be, running and runners are great! Running abroad is a great way  to stumble upon some spectacular places, some out of the way of the tourist bus. Running on location really amps your motivation as you might get to run on white sandy beaches, through mountains, muddy terrains or through a lush forest. Most people run on concrete weaving through buildings, pedestrians, prams and vehicles trying not let the exhaust pipe fumes strangle their lungs. So, getting a chance to change scenery and air quality is always welcome. Again, running has a way of really plugging you into the location and forging a connection. Do check out if you can sign up for any local or national races before you travel.

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Running route – Nafplio, Greece

3.Buy local –  Try to avoid the massive international chains and invest in local businesses when at a new travel destination. It is a great way to get some authentic cultural stuff and  to talk to some interesting people. Open markets are amazing spaces, usually full of life and interesting vendors. Also, buying local (made) means you are less likely to buy stuff made in a sweat shop in some dark alley.Do remember to negotiate prices where possible though! I often try to find cool home decor that are well made , FOOD, jewelry and local fashion designers and artists. It is essential you buy stuff you really like and that is well made with real craftsmanship, it may cost a bit more but you don’t want to accumulate badly made junk.   You may have to buy less but few quality pieces are much better than loads of junk…I would think.

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Eating local – Bath, England

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.