FLORENCE: NOT JUST A MUSEUM, IT IS MAGIC

All the time I pass from Florence, it happens: I walk in the center of Florence and my mind is projected into another dimension. You can image the life of centuries ago that made the city great: culture, history, art, poetry and food… this city is also ingenuity, wisdom, mystery and magic. The pillars of an unprecedented beauty that has no equal. But Florence is not just a museum. It is more….

One of the most famous square in Florence

Florence and its genetic traits attracted artists, poets and novelists from all around the world as the source of their inspiration and as their temporary home, their refuge. Florence is life. Florence is even the city of craftsmen that also today are the citizen of this beautiful city. Churning out large and small masterpieces, handing skills, values and character.

Enjoy the Flavors of Florence

Florence is the heart of Tuscany... maybe one of the best representation of Italy. If you pass from Tuscany you will stop here, walk around Florence, taking photos from Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River.  A trip to Florence means a visit to the Uffizi Museum, and the imposing Palazzo della Signoria. To truly taste Florence, you need to enjoy also the food of Florence and the wine. Stop in one of the small restaurant and take your glass of red wine sitting there in the middle of this amazing city!

You can also inhale the perfume of leather at the markets and eat a real Fiorentina. “Ristorantedel Fagioli” in Corso dei Tintori, 47 R - FIRENZE, one of the best! But you need a reservation!

Some good place to eat an amazing Italian sandwich (La schiacciata) are:

From Fratellini

Or you can go to the Sant’ Ambrogio Market and choose what you like.

For the night you can go to Piazza Santo Spirito and take an aperitivo. If you are Vegetarian search for “Il Vegetariano”. It is incredible, how it is delicious!

In Florence the best thing to do is walking, lose yourself in the middle of the town, and don’t pass your time to visit only museum and buildings …. Enjoy the peace and the beauty all around you!

KIEV or KYIV: THE CITY of THE RECENT REVOLUTION OF DIGNITY

Kiev has a
long history that started more than 1,500 years ago, when around 950 the first churches,
cathedrals and monuments were built. Below, you find a list of the must-see
historical and contemporary attractions in the city.

But what we may not remember is the recent history of the city: in 2014 there was a revolution here, “The Revolution of Dignity”.

In November
2013, the President Viktor Yanukovych announced that Ukraine was suspending
pursuit of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement for which the country
had been preparing for since 2008.  The
announcement led to the largest peaceful protests seen at the Maidan in Kyiv
since the Orange Revolution of 2004.  But
after some time, the Berkut Special Police forcefully dispersed the hundred
student-aged protesters who remained at the square, beating some with
truncheons. The reaction of the public in response to the attack was momentous.
10,000 people occupied the Maidan later that day. 

As the days
went on, more people from all corners of the country arrived in Kyiv. There was
no single leader organizing the protest. 
It was time for Ukraine to rid itself of corruption.  People organized themselves into subunits,
mainly based on areas of Ukraine from where they came. A perimeter was
established with barricades erected to keep the Berkut Police at bay. A self-defense
patrol called Samo-borona was established, its rules and discipline were based
upon the Kozak (“Cossack”) traditions of Ukraine.  Every day after work hours, people gathered
to hear the speeches of community activists as well as politicians who
supported the movement.  Musical &
cultural artists kept the crowd entertained and in good spirits day and night. The
government paid street hooligans, called “titushkas”, to attack protesters,
kidnap activists and journalists and create general chaos throughout Kyiv,
while the corrupt police turned a blind eye to these hooligans.

In February
2014, protesters began a peaceful march through the streets of Kyiv but were
met by Berkut officers throwing stun grenades and firing at them from rooftops.  The bloodiest day of the protests occurred on
February 20,  when government snipers
perched on rooftops shot and killed 67 protesters who were armed with wooden
clubs and shields made from sheet metal or wood. The massacre was filmed by
professional and amateur journalists and widely distributed on the Internet.  By February 22, the shock created by that
bloodshed had prompted a mass defection by the president’s allies in Parliament
and prodded Yanukovych to join negotiations.

ROAD TO THE INDEPENDENCE SQUARE

In mid
January, at Yanukovych’s demand, the corruption-laden parliament rammed through
a series of anti-protest laws that came with severe penalties, making the
country a de facto dictatorship. The peole exploded.

Day 1

Santa Sofia

It is the
oldest Kyiv standing church, built in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, who
incidentally was laid to rest inside. He commissioned the project to
commemorate the site of a victory of Kyivan Rus over the Pechenegs (Asian
nomadic tribes) and to glorify Christianity.

This
majestic 13-cupola sanctuary adjoined Yaroslav’s Palace and became a holy place
of
worship for Kyivites as well as a political and cultural centre. Meetings
with foreign diplomats and treaty negotiations were held here, and the church
housed the first library and school in Kyivan Rus.

The bell
ower, azure and white is 76m high and was finished in 1752. The cathedral’s
upper Ukrainian Baroque section and gilded cupola were added in 1852. Today it
is a museum and contains archaeological artefacts and architectural displays,
such as models depicting Kyiv as it looked before being razed by Mongol invaders
in 1240. To enter the cathedral itself, purchase tickets from the kiosk around
the corner from the bell tower entrance.

Cable railway

This type
of transport is very important for citizens of Kiev because it connects the
upper town with historical part of Kiev Podol. Underground station
"Poshtova ploshcha" and River port are situated near Lower station.
There are only two Сable railways for whole Ukraine that is why don`t miss your
chance to tick "Cable railway" in you ToDo, ToTry, ToVisit list for
Kiev!

Foods!

The
Ukrainian cuisine is amazing. Your food adventure has to include stops at the
popular national restaurants of the city center to taste the traditional
dishes!

Remember to
ask for traditional Ukrainian starter – salo with garlic and toast. It goes
accompanied with a complimentary homemade liquor.

Then, it’s the
right time you taste the most popular Ukrainian soup – borsch. It is made from
cabbage, potatoes and beetroot that gives the soup an intense red color.

After that,
your lunch can continue with  sample
delicious vareniki (dumpling). You may choose from different stuffing, like
meat, potatoes and mushrooms, cabbage, etc.

Combining food tasting and sightseeing is the best way to spend your time in Kiev! And of course drink Vodka!

VODKA SHOTS

Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) and
the recent story of Kyiv (Kiev)

After that
you can choose: You can either head underground for a guided "urban
exploration" tour, navigating through storm drains and tunnels beneath the
Ukrainian capital; or if you prefer, you can stay topside for a tour of Kyiv’s
eye-catching street art highlights.

After lunch, you can take a tour through Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where you can learn about the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution visiting the places where it happened.

Day 2: the other side of Kyiv (Kiev)

Andriivskyi Descent Road

It`s the
most historical and famous street of Kiev. It had been playing an important
role in ancient times because it connects the two central districts of Kiev -
Upper Town and Podol (Lower Town). Now it is the most creative street and locals
really like to visit it. Here you will find theaters, a lot of art cafes,
several museums.  Also here you can find
a Ukrainian souvenirs of all types.

There are
lots of things to see, visit and do on one street that is often called
Ukrainian Montmartre.

First you will see the
grand church, designed by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli and
constructed during 1747–1754. St Andrew's church is considered to be one of the
most beautiful Baroque buildings not only in Kyiv but also in Europe. Curiosity:
it is the only church in Kyiv that has no bells.

Going  down to the down town, you will nderstand
that there is a reason why Andriyivsky Descent is called the Kyiv Montmartre:
it has long served as a place where artists and sculptors created and hosted
most popular exhibitions. Many renowned contemporary and classical art
galleries are located here: for instance, Tryptykh, 36, Fortuna, Karas and
Soviart.

The main
exhibition gallery is Andriivskyi Descent itself: the street is full of
paintings, sculptures, antiques, traditional Ukrainian embroideries and various
souvenirs from street artists and vendors.

See my other articles on Europe!

ESPANA EN COCINA: TORTILLA DE PAPAS Y CEBOLLA!

One of the most simple and traditional dish of Spain composed by eggs, potatoes and onion….. "Tortilla"

It is simple but you need to respect the steps one by one to have a perfect Spanish tortilla. In Italy we have the “frittata” but it is not the same thing… The Tortilla is something special, it is a complete plate but also an appetizer, a good “tapas”!

Preparation: 15 min.

Cook: 30 min.

Total: 45 min.

INGREDIENTS FOR 4 PEOPLE

5 EGGS

4 MEDIUM POTATOS (peeled, cut in half, and sliced horizontally)

2 ONIONS (sliced)

PEPPER

SALT

OIL

 

THE PROCESS STEP BY STEPS

Before to start, please divide the red to the blank part of the eggs. Put them in 2 different bowl of medium size. Beat the red and whisk the blank! Add salt to the red not to the blank.

In a large stockpot over medium high heat, add olive oil enough to cover the potatoes you will add after. When it is hot but not smoking, add the onions. Lower heat to medium. Cook, poaching the d onions until they will be tender, about 5 minutes.

After that, put the onions in the red part of the eggs and do the same job with the potatoes.

At this time, get all the things you are going to need for the tortilla. A large plate, a frying pan. IMPORTANT NOTE:  IT MUST BE NON-STICK FRYING PAN. If not, your tortilla will stick and the whole process is ruined.

Add the blank of the eggs to all the others ingredients and mix them.

In the frying pan, add one tbsp of your reserved oil. Heat over medium heat until almost smoking.

Now add your egg and potato mixture, and as soon as it hits the pan, start stirring the eggs so that they coagulate and the uncooked part goes to the bottom, and you get some cooked egg on top.

Simultaneously, as you are stirring the center, with your wooden spoon, drag it along the edges to make sure that it is drying up.

This enables you to make sure that the tortilla is not sticking on the edges, so it will flip loosely onto your large plate.

Now the most difficult part of the tortilla cooking process….. You need to turn the tortilla, how? Take a plate big enough and cover the pan, the oil has to be all absorbed or please put it off in you have more… or you will burn yourself!

You are ready, do pressing on the plate and turn at the same time plate and pan….. in this way the half cooked tortilla is on the plate, let it slowly slide back into the pan and finish to cook it, brown it a bit too….

Remember that  in the center the tortilla didn’t need to be completely cooked.

Notes: if you want another version of this amazing plate is with potatoes and peperoni. You can add also some cheese if you like it!

Watch a Video

Read more recipes: click here!

CEVICHE: EL PESCADO MAS BUENO DE AMERICA LATINA!

In Italy we eat carpaccio, in South America they eat Ceviche…  a traditional recipe that let you taste the real flavor of the fresh fish! The seafood is cooked in a citrus-marinated sauce originates in Peru. The origin is probably to be reconnected to Spanish escabeche, which is a vinegar-marinated dish.

Ceviche is simply fish "cooked" by marinating in the acid of citrus juice. This recipe is said to be traditionally Peruvian but in each country of South America you can find a ceviche. You can choose among different juice: high-quality white saltwater fish with lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice… and more: salt, hot peppers, onions, and cilantro basically.

Enjoy it in a hot day with a cold beer —or anytime you desire a fresh snack in your South American travels!

INGREDIENTS

1 pound white saltwater fish

1 glass of lime juice

1/2 glass of lemon juice

1/2 glass of orange juice

1 sweet onion (sliced very thinly)

1 chilipepper (e.g. habaneros)

cilantro (chopped)

Salt

STEPS:

First, start to cut the fish into small pieces, not too small… you need to taste the fish when you will bite it! Normally dice it in pieces up to 1-inch square. One rule: the larger you cut the pieces, the longer it will take to marinate.

Add salt, then cover it with all the juices you prepared! You can do it in a glass or plastic container with a lid. After one minute, add the sliced onions and the chili.

Leave the fish mixture in the fridge for at least 2,5 hours, better 3-4 hours (very large pieces of fish can take longer to fully marinate). Depends on how you feel about the freshness of the fish you bought, it is OK if the centers of the pieces are still raw-looking.​

To serve, put the mixture on a plate or in a bowl and put on the top the cilantro.

NOTES

Normally as whitefish you can choose among albacore, sole, snapper, halibut, or anything else you can find also in a sushi menu.  The High-quality of the fish is really important, for your healthy and for the best ceviche you can prepare!

Please, remember to remove the skin and bones from the fish, as well as the bloodline before cutting it up. You have also to cut all the bloodline, the dark red portion of the fillet to have a real ceviche.

Wit ceviche please take a cold beer and tortilla chips as an accompaniment. In Peru, you will most often find this ceviche dish served with potatoes, either sweet or white.

You can prepare the ceviche also with other types of fish, e.g. shrimps or atun… whatever you want!

read my other recipes!!

GOA: NOT CONVENTIONAL INDIA

Goa is not a city …. It is a  part of the incredible India!

India is recognized as the largest democracy in the world. The Constitution came into force on 26 January 1950. The principles of equality, liberty, justice and fraternity are the roots of India. The people from any caste, creed, sex, religion, and region can vote and choose their representatives. In India, there is a federal form of government that means there is a government at the center and at the state.Therefore, Goa is part of all of this and is the smallest state.

The “country” changes fast but the magic still is there. You can go to India just for a month but you need more time  to live India and the incredible culture it has.

Goa's attractiveness lies in the beautiful beaches , each with its own appeal. You can visit 30 beaches strung out along the coastline and each of them is different. You have to take care in the months of October and November when the seabed is still settling after the monsoon. While Goa's reputation as one of the most liberal Indian states means that sunbathing in a bikini is entirely accepted, but remember that topless is illegal and wearing flimsy shorts or a bikini anywhere other than the beach is extremely disrespectful. When you will be there , please respect the culture and what it means for Indian people.

The northern beaches are generally considered to be the most dynamic, developed and tourist populated. Calangute and Baga, for example, are quite touristic but you have to know that these beaches lacks much authentic Indian charm. It depends on which experience you want to live in India.

One of the place I was is Anjuna beach, the original hippy hangout, that has changed dramatically since its original days but retains a touch of the unconventional.

 ù

In the northest part of Goa and you'll find peace again on the beaches of Mandrem, Asvem and Arambol – broad sweeps of fawn sand, backed by thickets of palm trees and casuarina pines.

In the south there is another nice place is Palolem. With postcard-perfect views, lazy beach life and a chilled-out nightlife this broad bay has little in common with the more commercialized northern beaches. For something even quieter, wander south to the next beach along, Patnem. Go to eat curry fish, it is an amazing typical dish!

How can  I know so much? I rent a moto and I was just flowing from a place to another in Goa territory.

Party like no where else

Goa is recognized as a party destination. It was began to be established when it was a Portuguese colony, providing a liberal bolt-hole in a conservative nation. Young Western backpackers began to mix all togheter in Goa and the state became a venue for all-night raves.

There are, the three-day "underground" trance parties. The best place to begin is at Vagator beach. After this you should ask for the jungle location where that evening's party will take place.

However, since the police have started to crack down on these unofficial all-night raves, mainstream club started to fill the gap.

In the middle of the day, the pace of life in Goa slows substantially.

Yoga in Goa

Yoga is a usual activity you will do in Goa, the smallest India state. Visiting several beaches I was looking always for a Yoga class and it is so easy there to find one. Just go around and find the best practice for you!

I used to do Yoga early in the morning, when the sun come up and gentle tell you that the day starts…

Do yoga in India is different than do it in Europe. All around you, remember that this is a philosophy, not just a practice. You need to focus with all your soul and your mind and feel as you are part of something bigger than you.. The nature and the world itself!

MARSEILLES: LA CITE’ PHOCEENNE

During Easter vacation, I left Turin with some friend, direction: Marseilles. I already was in this city but when I was a child so I cannot remember anything!

We spent two relaxed days enjoying the sun and exploring the major attractions of Marseilles.

The colors of the building give you a sensation of peace and of course, the sea help a lot in this… it is not an usual European city for me, it was more similar to different small villages one connected to the other: I am thinking to the center or to the panier, the old port and so on…. Each neighborhood with his own soul.

So the time I passed there was good and Marseilles let me a very good impression, an angler city with a long past and a long history on his shoulders. Founded by the Greeks some 2,600 years ago, it has uncoiled itself inland from gritty docklands over the centuries and grown a reputation as port with a seedy character.

A lot of places to see: from the Basilique of Notre-Dame de la Garde to the Abbaye Saint-Victor, the Old Port and then head out to Chateau d’lf, a fortress on the island of lf. You will find museums to explore including the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, La Vieille Charite, and Palais Longchamps & Musee des Beaux-arts. Spend some time at the Cathedrale de la Major. Of course, you need to check out Marseilles’s oldest district, the Panier.

WHAT TO VISIT

If you like to see an amazing view from the top of the city, you need to go to start your trip with the Basilique of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Dominating Marseilles’s skyline, the Basilique is of the 19th century Romano-Byzantine, an opulent Catholic church that sits at the city’s highest natural elevation spot on the south side of the Old Port.

The church, whose name means ‘Our Lady of the Guard’ was built on the ruins of an ancient fort and offers spectacular 360 degree views of the area. It was designed by Henri-Jacques Esperandieu. Over the years, restoration projects have been undertaken, most recently in 2008.

City buses and a tourist train make the steep ride to the top possible. The beauty of the architecture, both inside and out makes this a must-do when visiting the city.

After having see the city from the top, you can go directly to the old port, that is still the watery heart of the city, with its fishing boats and yachts bobbing lazily on the blue waters, and two forts framing its entrance at either end.

Stroll its flanks, the Quai des Belges, early in the morning for the catch of the day: the lively local fish market. The market runs from around 8am – 1pm, and is a Marseille institution. You can’t miss it!

For the “aperitivo” behind the Town Hall lies the city’s old town, "Le Panier". Experience the hidden gem that is Marseilles’s old town without a guide (guided tours available from the Tourist Office and Convention Bureau), on the Petit Tourist Train or on foot.

And remember drink pastis! You are in the city of this really nice and fresh drink! For what I read the pastis comes from the absinthe. In the past centuries France became addicted to absinthe.

When the prohibitionists (ably supported by the wine lobby, which didn’t like the competition from the green fairy) carried the day in 1915, during the first Great War the French probably needed a stiff drink.

Fast forward to the 1920s. Absinthe was still banned but the government (probably mindful of the tax revenues that would ensue) gave the go-ahead for absinthe-style drinks to be sold provided they contained no wormwood and were not too alcoholic. A brash young entrepreneur from Marseille with a flair for marketing, Paul Ricard, decided to market an anise-flavored drink he called pastis. It was strong stuff and got Ricard into trouble with the authorities, but the French public took a shine to Ricard’s concoction, which bore his name and which he declared to be “the true pastis from Marseille,” a claim that gave the drink a certain raffish allure. By 1932 Ricard and others had managed to get the law changed to allow a higher alcohol content and a market was born. Not to be outdone, Pernod launched its own anise drink (which to this day it resolutely refuses to call a pastis) and pastis became as much a symbol of France as the beret, the baguette and boules.

WHERE TO EAT

Marseilles is full of local restaurateurs seizing up the quarry for their menus. You can try a fresh saltwater oyster before you head to your next stop. Thankfully, they are not rinsed and come delicious au natural.

For a dinner we found a very good fish restaurant: Le Petit Cabanon,  the food was amazing and we drink also good wine!

If you want to taste something local you need to try the savory bouillabaisse, Marseilles's signature dish fish stew. Word on the street is, don’t pluck for the cheap version; opt instead for an eatery that serves up a bowl priced upwards of €25. Although finding an authentic bouillabaisse experience among the tourist traps can be tricky.

Of course, if fish stew doesn’t float your trawler (bouillabaisse is really, really fishy), this port city has a patchwork of other cultural dining options to choose from: you’ll find plenty of Italian, African, and Far Eastern joints to try, so you’re sure to find something tempting.

WHERE MY COLOMBIA TRIP STARTED: CARTAGENA!

Colombia, maybe the best travel I did so far in my life. Go back in my memories is really a nice way to think again what I did there and what I visited. First, My thoughts went back to Cartagena.

Although I knew nothing about the city before arriving there, I had such an amazing experience exploring and going on a new adventure each day.

I sincerely believe that what I saw is only a small piece of all that the city has to offer. So many other things I want to experience in my next trip to Colombia, because of course I will go back in this beautiful country! Feel free to drop a comment with your recommendations!

The Walled City

Cartagena was founded in the 16th century, and is a port city located on Colombia's Caribbean coast known for its plentiful colonial architecture, its cobblestone streets, and its effortless lifestyle. In the past, Gold and emeralds brought people to Cartagena, today the jewels of the city are the contemporary riches - a vibrant culinary scene, and beautiful beaches are the main attractions.

In the center of Cartagena, you can visit the old city surrounded by ancient stone walls and full of vibrant culture. Beautiful buildings and potent colors all around… what’s better than this to relax? The old city is so bright and I thought definitely to plan on staying inside the walls next time I will visit Cartagena.

Have a walk during the morning and after sit down in a small restaurant enjoying the city life and his flow.

The food is amazing. You can choose meat or fish, equally delicious! If you want to close your lunch with a sweet try the coconut pie that still haunts my dreams.

Another advice… If you want to eat fresh fish you need to search a “cevicheria”. For a nice dinner, after getting semi-lost in the old city, just take a good decision, choose a cevicheria with seats on the sidewalk and enjoy all of the evening activities happening around you! Sometimes you find amazing guitarists playing or small shows around the streets…

Other attractions

Out of the old city you can walk on the city's historic walls. Better during the sunset for the hot weather during the day.

The Colonial wall was built to keep the pirates (of the Caribbean!) out in the 16th century.

I started my walk at Cafe del Mar, then walked south along the wall to Santa Teresa Square and I ended close to the Castillo de San Felipe.

From the top you can see the “Castillo San Felipe”, the 16th century fortress overlooking the city and coast. You can visit it or just take some pictures going below it.

I love to shop. As with most cities abroad, flea markets are a major tourist attraction but I really love it. Cartagena had local vendors selling little things throughout the streets in the walled city but if you want a real market there is a little flea market in an old courtyard. Unlike most of the vendors that carried the same set of items (fedoras, ankle bracelets, etc.), this flea market in particular has a ton of cool  things that I would have loved to bring home with me. It is fun to explore the city’s culture through the local lens and check out some of the things they cherish on a day-to-day.

Getsemani for nightlife

Cartagena is full of square where you can pass a really nice evening/night with live music. You don’t need to be into clubs and partying to enjoy the nightlife, just go to the Getsemani neighborhood.  This area is well known for its lively atmosphere during the hot nights in Cartagena.

There are great bars in the area where you can drink something or you can take a beer and drink it chilling a the Getsemani square, Holy Trinity Square, where I passed my nights enjoying local people and artists playing guitar, singing or just talking each other. I remember a guy that was amazing… He did the imitation of Michael Jackson but wow, He was incredible!! I saw also a dance class for women and some teen’s break dancing. It’s really a nice place to hang out and people-watch.

You can also go to a salsa club if you want to dance, such as Cafe Havana or Bazurto Social Club. You should expect a cover charge and that the salsa dancing starts late.

Last info, if you search for the streetart Getsemani is the perfect corner to visit to search it!

Cartagena surrounding

The one common thing you kept hearing before leaving was that the beaches in the city were not great but if you go a little bit outside you can find beautiful ones. Islas del Rosarios or Playa Blanca (Isla Baru)  are not so far and there you see crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. A paradise where there is almost anything, you will really enjoy the peace you find in this quite place. I passed 3 days in playa Blanca after Cartagena and I prepared myself for the “Ciudad perdida” trekking.

 







HAVANA: AN EXPLOSION OF LIFE STORIES OF JOY AND FEELING

Cuba, when you arrive to the airport, the hot weather embrace you in the row till the passport control. You are already exited to see how it is in the reality, if all the stories people tell you to about the magic of this place are true or not. It is magic or it is only a decadent place stopped in the ’60?

You looked many pictures at home trying to imagine how it is the legendary place you want to visit from all your life. When you are there, it seems all strange at the beginning. No advertising, no malls, long row out of the shops to buy food and alcohol, nothing that remember you the west world from where you came. For the time I passed on the island I forgave every truth or certainty, I had at home. Leave every prejudice you have and start to think and live different as it is always the last happy moment of your life!

It is poetry, happiness, passion. It is the fire that moves you around the island and the capital, one of the most beautiful places I was. Difficult to express through words, easy emotions to live when you are there.

After a while, you understand that it is not the time that stops but is the life itself. Locals have different opinion about that, “it is a good thing, we won’t change!” or “we want the progress”.

Cuba is salsa, is pina colada on a beach. Cuba is a child without his toys, is a smile that invites you to dance. Cuba  is a broken bus , a train that never stops, the smell of cigars, the taste of rum,  the rhythm of a vibrant music.

I decided to write now this article, aware that things are changing and I don’t know where Cuba will be in 5 years from now. It will be the island still a paradise? A place where you can live easily? Where the passion moves everything and not the consumption? I have many questions inside me on Cuba, and nothing more the time will give me answers.

The people are unique and you need to speak with them to understand their story and what they passed to become what they are, the convictions and the dreams they have, the way they live their life and more….

Each part of the island is a world, a different one, but dancing, smiling with a passion that comes from inside their hearts is part of each Cuban I met.

The best way to start discover this world is walking around, talking with people and drinking with them good Rum, maybe dancing gin small tiny place with live music that bring you in the dream of Cuba.

Remember that at that time the currency where two…… one for tourist and one for local. You had to be sly to know it!

So let’s talk about Havana, the capital city…

One of the first thing I did and the most romantic in Havana is going to see the Malecón at Sunset.

The Malecón is a long, historical road that separates the city of Havana from the blue ocean. For decades, Cubans have been there searching for a beautiful girl to fall in love with! I have to say not only couples but also families and group of friends go to the Malecón to talk and drink!

Many locals go there during the night to drink and socialize because it’s cheap and of course it is not an expensive club.  At the sunset it is a majestic sight to go. The colors are incredible, yellow turn in red and pink before the sun disappears under the buildings, a truly spectacular show!

Close to the Malecon you can also walk through the Cuban Missile Crisis Tunnels. Standing at the edge of Hotel Nacional — you see people starting to line up and the Cuban Missile Crisis tunnels are under their feet!

After you’re done enjoying your mojito in the garden of Hotel Nacional, take a little stroll to the far right corner and look for the signs, and tunnels where the Cuban Missile Crisis missiles were once set up and aimed directly at the U.S. It’s crazy to think that an island in the Carribean almost went up against the U.S. in what would have been a World War III!

Please if you can, ride a 1950’s Convertible car! One of the biggest trademarks of Cuba is its amazing collection of antique cars from the 1950’s. Many people still use them for everyday use, but most of them are used as taxis or private cars that you can ride. They will try to overcharge you at the airport and all around the city, so please bargain all the time you want to take one! It will be cheaper (around 10 CUC) and they will likely be willing to wait for you places, and will come get you whenever you call them!

You need to walk around Havana Vieja, the most touristic part of the city. The old Havana is today a renovated areas. It’s a “touristy area” with a lot of new hotels, restaurants, landmarks, etc. You can see the famous capitol building, walk around the cobblestone streets, and check out one of the many restaurants or little souvenir shops that are on every block. Close to here there is also a nice fresh fruit market. You’ll see tons of little fruit markets around the city, so if you want a fresh piece of mango or watermelon, be sure to stop in these open market not in a touristic bar. At the time I visited Cuba, they accepted only Cuban pesos, not the Cuban Convertibles (CUCs) a tourist was used to using — 25 pesos = 1 CUC. So I had to search a change money and I enjoyed it!

If you continue walking, you find also the craft markets with all of the little souvenirs you see in the tourist shops, but all in one place. Here you can also bargain for a deal.

Deeper into the city there is Centro Havana, an area that is most densely populated with locals. Like most things in Cuba, the buildings are the originals from the 1950’s and earlier, however, there was no money to keep them maintained or restored. Currently they started to renew also this part of the city. But still, the buildings are crumbling and decrepit looking, as I loved. This is part of Havana charm.

Another nice neighborhood is Vedado. It is full of “casa particular”, so you can see mansion after mansion along the street. There your mind can start to dream about who lived there before the revolution.

People told me it was where mafia and mob leaders from the U.S., plantation owners, and even the Bacardi family lived there when Batista was in power and Havana was the “Las Vegas of the Carribean”. Now, multiple families live in these old mansions. No one pays rent. The government decides to assign the families to homes depending on the family size and where they are originally from.

Another must in Havana is Dancing, Dancing and still dancing! Cubans love to dance not only during the night but also during all the day. Therefore, there is always a live band and everyone dancing salsa!

If you want real, authentic Cuban nightlife, head over to Casa de la Musica in Miramar — just west of Vedado and close by the Tropicana. The young locals go to dance here live salsa or reggae music, but it is also the place where the tourists go to dance so it is a bit expensive if oyu want to drink.

Live another Havana

If you want to see also the normal Havana you can start discovering the Young Artists’ Movement at Fabrica de Arte. The place is awesome. Fabrica de Arte is essentially an art gallery  that is built inside of an old olive oil factory.

It has two floors plus an additional back area made from cargo containers. On the first floor there is a bar, artwork and a live band playing, and upstairs is more art. Out back is a patio where most people lounge and hang out, then back downstairs out back is a little “food truck” type thing made from one of the cargo containers with modern Cuban cuisine.

Another good thing to do to discover Havana is to practice Spanish & English with locals. Many Cubans want to learn English. Spanish in Cuba is important to talk with people, hardly anyone speaks English. A few people, especially younger ones can speak a little. We talk fast for them to be able to understand!

To live the history of the city , you need to visit the Four Plazas of the Revolucion. The giant Che tribute is one of the first Revolucion memorials you’ll see when you arrive in Havana. There are four different plazas with statues dedicated to memorials of the Revolucion leaders, but they’re spread out all over Havana, so you either have to take a taxi to go to each one.

Out of the city!

If you are tired of walking, the day after you can pass a perfect day at Santa Maria beach to relax! You can go there with a simple bus as Cubans do, paying 1 CUC. When you arrive in front of you there is a beautiful white-sandy beach and clear-blue waters about 20 minutes from Havana Vieja. I spent a day there exploring and lounging in the sun! There you can also have an Authentic Cuban Meal (you won’t have a choice). I hope you like Cuban food because otherwise you might starve in Cuba. Your typical Cuban meal will consist of a meat (usually chicken, beef, fish, or shrimp) with a heaping side of rice and beans, plantains, and a salad of cucumbers and cabbage. If you stay in a casa particular, you’ll likely have the option to pay the people who own it a little extra to cook for you as well. Try also food from the local vendors and food stands like empanadas and croquettas!

GEORGE TOWN: HERITAGE OF THE ASIAN STREET FOOD

Penang: its street food is legendary and the capital George Town is one of the hottest destinations in Asia, especially for the nightlife.

The island is an exotic tropical piece of earth, located off the north-west Malaysia. It is one of the world capitals of street food, with a melting pot of cuisines from the island’s Chinese, Malay and Indian communities: Hokkien black noodles, succulent giant prawns steamed in rice wine and spicy assam laksa, roti canai dunked in a rich lamb curry and much more.

The island can offer much more to do. The best thing is to hire a car or organize a day trip in the nature to discover the other side of this verdant island, with lush jungle, traditional fishing villages and rural Malay kampongs.

Where to eat in George Town

Street food is everywhere around the island: with stalls cooking 24 hours a day, from breakfast to after-midnight breaks. Seafood is a Penang specialty. There is no other place in the world where such a mix of cultures has contributed their culinary influences one into each other. Chinatown, Little India, hawker stalls and food courts - the multitude of choices for eating in Georgetown is delightfully overwhelming.

The best place to eat for me are the food courts where you can find lots of different food to taste in the same location.

You sit down, take a drink to guarantee you the table and after that, you can go all around and decide what you want to eat taking your time. It can be also convenient to have all the options under one roof.

Just to mentioned the main ones around the city, below a short description of them:

  • New World Park: This failed amusement park was given a new life as Georgetown's best food court. Each food counter is clearly labeled with what local dish can be purchased. It is located in the northwest of the city.
  • Red Garden: The Red Garden is a little grungier and more hectic but the location is perfect! Here you can find a perfect mix of carts and counters that serve up excellent fare for prices cheaper than those found in restaurants. The Red Garden is an excellent place to find classics food as well as Thai, sushi, and even Filipino food. The Red Garden opens only for dinner at 5:30 pm till 2 am.

  • Sri Weld Food Court: This concrete-floored food court is cheap and simple, but the food is excellent. Sri Weld is located on the eastern tip of Georgetown between Lebuh Pantai and Pengkalan Weld
  • Cebil Market Food Court: This classic food court is located in the southeast of the city center. The food court is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Street Art

I love going around and searching street art when I travel. I like this art because it is the expression of the city soul and young folk; it is something clandestine and wild that become an integral part of the urban landscape.

In Georgetown, the artists integrated elements of the urban environment and other objects in their works in a very playful and funny manner.

Telling something more, in 2010 the state of Penang launched an initiative: they asked to the island artists to create sculptures in wrought iron in the form of cartoons which illustrate the multiculturalism of the region and of the local scenes and life.

Then in 2012 another step was done, in the framework of the Georgetown festival, the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic asked to create very imaginative murals combining the painting and common objects such as bicycle or telephone booths. This style of street art, light and fun, become the artistic signature of Penang and different artists joined the movement. I passed the day around the city discovering the places where the murals were taking pictures with a guy I met there.

Walking around

If you want to visit the city from an historical point of you, you can start from the Fort of Cornwallis, which was built in 1800 by Captain Sir Francis Light. He came on the island during a navigation, falling in love with the place. Not far away there is the clock tower built in honor of 60 years of reign of Queen Victoria. Advancing toward the south you can arrive to the characteristic district of Little India. You really feel to be in India, the food, the music, the color, the perfumes; the shops are like the traditional ones and let you to immerse yourself in the Indian atmosphere. In the afternoon, you can visit the Hindu temple of Mahamariamman, the Teochew temple and the mosque of Kapitan Keling, built in 1801. After that, a visit to the old part of the city is necessary. A metal arc is the door to this area that was founded by the first Chinese emigrants: Chinatown.

If you go closer to the sea there are also the old clans headquarters There are different ones for each clan that populated the city. The shops are now abandoned, the houses one after another are of faded pastel color but you can lose hours and hours to run up and down, to discover new untouched corner all around.

The only critical point is the sun that burn so keep with you water and sun-cream for your skin!

After Penang I turn to Kuala Lumpur again, my time in Malysia was finished!