Sunday, 26 January 2014

Arran - a.k.a. Scotland in miniature

When Ginger Cat & me were planning our trip to Scotland in summer 2011, my main wish was to include in the itinerary at least one island, because I stil haven't visited any, not even the Island of Skye.
I was actually thinking of the Hebrides, but when Ginger came up with the unusual idea of going to this almost unknown Isle of Arran I've immediately got enthralled by the idea.
Mostly because, in fact, it is unknown - I have to admit it: I've always had a soft spot for the underdogs, more or less in any fields, and I'm all for discovering small hidden treasures far away from the main path. Moreover, we were doing our trip in August, and in August choosing less touristic places can actually make a difference with being able to enjoy your destination to the fullest, instead of just fighting in the crowd to do and see things.
And indeed, it's really been a little jem this one we've discovered.
I'd say the 3 days spent on Arran have probably been the past part of the trip - altough it's been a very interesting trip with so many other memorable destinations.
This place includes all the sort of natural environment which I find most beautiful and which fulfills my heart with peace and serenity: wild rough beaches, enchanting woods, moorlands, cliffs - my soul just fits this kind of landscape, it makes it vibrate, both with emotions and peace, like a sort of homecoming.
I'm glad we chose this place.
When telling about it, most of people was mistaking it for the more popular Aran Islands in Ireland - but no, this ARRAN, with double "R" and it's in Scotland, more precisely in the Firth of Clyde. Not too far away from my original plan concerning Hebrides, actually, and it's even quite similar, both physycally and culturally, to them - but they are separated from a peninsula, so it doesn't count as one of them.
It also has a different ethimology from its Irish almost homonymous: Aran means "kidney", as that's the shape they have; while Arran is probably a Brythonic derivation which means "high place" (the Goat Fell hill overcomes the 800 mt - which is a pretty considerable high for the Scottish standards).
As for its shape, the isle is actually nicknamed Sleeping Warrior - as its coast seen from the mainland actually looks like a sleeping human figure, and I find this so charming. I wonder if there are any legends concerning this sleeping warrior transformed into an island - and if there are not any, maybe I should try to invent one :D

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

10 things I've loved about Copenaghen

I've been in Copenaghen at the end of October last year: the air was chilly, obviously chillier than what it was in Italy - but it was still possible to enjoy staying out, not only strolling but even sitting on the bench for a while, with the proper equipment in term of warm clothes and with some sun shining.
I've like the city. It didn't beat Stockholm in my personal classification of the Nordic capitals, but it's an honourable second place, very close to the first one. And, while they have similarities in architecture and structure, Copenaghen assumes a very different declination from the Swedish capital - just like two cooks preparing the same recipes with (almost) the same ingredients, but adding a very relevant touch of their own personalities that make the final result undeniably different.
When you walk around Copenaghen, you just can't help thinking about Hamlet: there is something intense and tragic in this city, but I mean it in a positive, emotional way. Just like a very quiet and silent surface that hides strong and wild emotions.
You are compelled to seek these emotions, to explore hidden corners, to slip into courtyards, to follow secondary alleys. It's less tidy than its Swedish cousin - the surface lets shine through some hints of the turmoil: architecture has some extra curvy lines, here and there appear some strong colours.
Maybe, just like Hamlet, also Copenaghen questions itself about being or not being: but the contrast between the neat Scandinavian appearance and the more flamboyant flashes doesn't provide indecision, but a richer, variegated personality.
And now let me tell you which ones of these facets I've enjoyed the most...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

5 British Cities I've left my heart in

British cities are British.
May them be modern and industrial, or old and cosy; may they have the charming gloom of the North or the friendly brightness of the South - they can only be in England and nowhere else.
Like the members of a large, aristocrat family, they all differ from one another but yet they have some traits in common - that little undefinable "something", that sort of air which tells you they all belong to the same roots.
Maybe it's the pebbles alleys, the towerbells with the pinnacles, the trellis wooden houses, the red phonebooths, the old fashioned signs of the pubs or the smell of fish & chips in the air - or maybe, better, it's a combination of all these small things. Just like a chemistry law, the result is something more than what we might expect from summing up all the single components - that's Britishness and that's what I love: it's the common trait you can find from Cornwall to Yorkshire, and that's the one thing I mostly enjoy of this country.
Its way of being, simply.
London is out of this list because it would have been a rather obvious choice and a way too easy winner. I wanted to focus on other places this time, so sit down with your cup of tea and come explore a piece of England with me!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Turin & the Tabby Cat

Sometimes you can travel without even leaving your hometown.
That usually happens when a friend comes to visit you: the first exciting part is choosing the itinerary to show her/him, in order to include all your favourite places - those that are meaningful to you, those that you find prettiest, but also those that you think she might particularly enjoy. And this part already requires an exercize of seeing your city with another kind of glimpse from the one you can have everyday, because you have to think about what is beautiful about it, what is valuable, what is special.
But then it's when you actually put in practice this plan, and start exploring your surroundings with your friend that the adventure really begins - because you start seeing everything with new eyes, with the eyes of someone that doesn't see your city daily, that maybe even sees it for the first time, and then it can happen: you will be able to discover things you had never found out before, and, what's perhaps even more interesting, giving a different shade to the things you usually do.

So - these are the new things I've done and seen (or maybe just put under a brighter light) during this weekend's visit of my friend Tabby Cat...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

10 Museums in Turin you shouldn't miss out

What's the best way to spend a rainy and cold morning when your heating is not even working properly?
Going to visit some museums, of course, exp. one that has recently opened (in 2009) and that I've always been rather curious about.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

10 ways London has managed to surprise me

Cities are like people.
When they have well defined personalities and lots of interests going on, they will always hang you up in interesting conversations, no matter how often you meet them.
Then, with cities this gets on an even bigger scale, since anyway their lives are much longer than those of humans, and they are way much more multitasking - with a lot of activities and events going on in every single corner of them, with millions of single minds thinking ideas, millions of hands making them real and millions of single lives summing up and giving breath to the soul of the city.
And London definitely belongs to this category.
We meet almost every year, since our first rendez-vous in 1998, and, although there are some good oldies of it that, just like favourite subjects in a conversation, I never manage to miss, every single time I've been there I've managed to discover something new - a different side of its personality, a place, an experience.
Something that makes me definitely agree with Samuel Johnson when he was claiming "A man who is tired of London is tired of life".

Saturday, 4 January 2014

2013: a year of travel achievements

2013 is over since a few days.
It's been one difficult but important year, made of lessons and achievements, of some gloomy moments but also of creativity and some great fun.
And anyway it's made me decide to open this blog :)
So - because of this reason, and because most of the positive parts it's given me have been achieved during/because of trips, I've thought it would have been decide to commemorate such achievement with a post :)

In this year I've managed to...

10 reasons to love Turin (part 2)

[--> read here the first part]

[6] If you love food...
Local traditional cuisine is rich and energetic, mainly based on meat and ideal to be enjoyed during coldest months.
Roast meats, such as Brasato al Barolo (cooked with the local delicious Barolo red wine), or boiled ones (Bollito misto, which includes many different boiled meats served with different sauces) are probably the most famous traditional dishes.
But there are also some seasoned and strong-flavoured cheeses, such as Castelmagno, Raschera and Toma.
And another famous main course is Fritto misto, which includes many different fried foods, like steaks, veggies, cookies, snails and offals.
But since we are in Italy after all, the tradition also includes some pasta dishes, such as agnolotti, pasta stuffed with meat that is usually served with butter and sage, or tajarin, a tiny version of tagliatelle.
Traditional starters include Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna + mayo sauce), Acciughe al Verde (anchovies with parsley and garlic) and Tomini al Verde/Elettrici (fresh goat cheese topped with parsley+anchovies or spicy peppers sauce).
But if you are brave enough and don't have many problems about garlic, don't miss the most peculiar of the Piedmontese traditional dishes: Bagna Cauda, a deadly but delicious hot sauce made with garlic (LOTS of it), cream and anchovies and served with raw and boiled veggies.
Among my favourite places where to taste these traditional dishes there are the Tre Galline restaurant (via Bellezia, Quadrilatero area) and the Antiche Sere Osteria.

Friday, 3 January 2014

10 reasons to love Turin (part 1)

I love Turin.
Might sound easy, since it's my hometown, but it hasn't really something to do with that: I mean, it's not much that I'm born here, but it's more like I couldn't have been born anywhere else. No, not even UK. I would want to be born in UK - but I am born in Turin, and I belong to it.
And Turin is like a cat.
It's elegant, in a natural way that might look sober for most of the time, but that can surprise you with sudden swirls and sparkles that have their own amazing harmony and grace.
It's indipendent: it doesn't really look like the typical Italian city, it has a sort of more Mid-European allure, with maybe a tiny bit of Britishness. It's out of any cliché and has its own personality - like it or not. It's Italian when it likes to be Italian, French when it likes to be French; it struggles between being cosmopolitan and staying pent-up in its withdrawal between the Alps - but you can tell it's just 100% Turin all the time.
Like a cat, it doesn't always reveal its best side to anyone: it can scratch or it can purr - depends on its mood and how much you click with it. But for those who know how to take it and that can guess the right way to caress it, the effort is totally worth it.
Don't worry, anyway: it's getting a more and more friendly and sociable cat within the latest years, and expecially since the Winter Olympic Games of 2006 when it finally decided to reveal itself to the world, wearing its best dress.
Turin wasn't much considered from tourism before 2006 - basically because tourism wasn't considered by Turin, then. But then one day it woke up and got tired to be considered an Ugly Duckling while instead it was a swan: Lonely Planet writes that "It's the most beautiful among the less known Italian cities - or, if you prefer, the less known of the most beautiful Italian cities" - and I find it a very fitting definition.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Burano: cats and colors

Burano is one of islands of the archipelago around Venice and it's a lovely and cosy stop I totally recommend if you are visiting the city.
Most of people usually add to the visit also a stop to the neighbour islands of Murano and Torcello (which is lovely as well), but in my opinion Burano is the prettiest and most particular.