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!

KOH LIPE: EARTH TREASURE OF WHITE BEACH

When you arrive on the island, the first impression you have is “Am I dead or alive?” You see a row of small boats in the water that has an intensive blue color compared to the white of the sand, a long beach tongue in front of you . The effect is a sharp light that come to your eyes, and you say “Wow!!” If the paradise really exist, hoping it will be similar to this.

Fisherman

If you arrive from Langkawi, in Malaysia (as I did), you need to clear immigration first. The staff on the speedboat or ferry will guide you through the immigration process. After the registration at the immigration office on the Southern end of Pattaya Beach, next to Bundhaya Resort, you are free to go.

The island is  very small, so you can go by foot everywhere, but if you are too lazy, Motorbike taxi drivers are around to take you where you need to go.

History

The first community to settle in Koh Lipe were a group of nomads of the sea called Urak Lawoy belonging to Chao Ley Group. They travelled from one island to another in search of areas rich of fish. Still today, many Urak Lawoy earn to live from fishing. The advent of tourism brought changes, still things are changing, and some have opened their restaurant where they cook fresh fish, while others have become taxisti or organize excursions on the islands.

The Chao Ley Koh Lipe are Animists, with a strong bond with the spirits of the sea and their ancestral spirits. Sometimes positioning of the totem on beaches as a point of contact between the spirits and the shaman. The Chao Ley also boast a rich musical heritage and the Urak Lawoy in particular are very good at playing the violin and percussion.

During cultural events as the Full Moon of Koh Lanta, the Urak Lawoy celebrate traditional dance and music with the hope of achieving economic prosperity and happiness in the family.

Koh lipe treasuries

The three main beaches in Koh Lipe are: The Sunset Beach (Hat Pramong), the Pattaya Beach and the Sunrise Beach (Hat Chao Ley) and a handful of small beaches for the most private and islets to explore.

Pattaya Beach: it is the most popular beach and the most beautiful of Koh Lipe with soft white sand and crystal blue sea. Here in addition to the hotels, you will also find dozens of bars and restaurants located directly on the beach or around the corner of the Walking Street.

Sunrise Beach (Hat Chao Ley): this beach extends along the entire eastern section of Koh Lipe. On clear days you can see in the distance the island of Koh Taruta and Langkawi Island in Malaysia. On the northern tip of the Sunrise Beach, in front of Koh Adang, there is a beautiful portion of white sand that change the shape according to the season and to the winds.

Sunset Beach (Hat Pramong): it is a small bay overlooking the west Coast, and as its name suggests is the best spot to watch the sunsets. It is a beach with the atmosphere very calm and relaxed where you can still find the characteristic bars and restaurants built with pieces of wood carried by sea.

If your skin is burn, this beach is also good in the morning because the sun will arrive in the afternoon, so you can enjoy the sea without pain!

However, you need to do a boat tour to enjoy at all the beauty of the island: the tour of the islands by boat also will give you the possibility of snorkeling in the most beautiful spots of the marine park. Koh Lipe is probably one of the last Thailand pieces remained uncontaminated. With 30 islets nearby and a hundred reef well preserved and easily accessible, is an ideal destination for diving lovers.

The strong points of the dives are the soft corals and the macro; there are several pinnacles of granite covered with coral frequented by neutral colorful tropical fish. The best sites for coral are Stonehenge and Koh Taru where you will be amazed to see the expanses of soft corals purple and white and the variety of marine species.

LANGWAKI ISLAND: THE BORDERS OF MALYSIA

As in Italy is winter and I wanted to have rest on a white beach in front of a blue sea I decided to go to Langkawi Island after Pangkor island on Malysia west coast.

I just looked some pictures of the place and after that I tell myself: “ok, you have to go there!”

So I took a bus from Lumut to Kuala Perlis (6 hours) for 38RM (around 7,5 Euros). After the bus, I have to catch a ferry (1, 5 hours) for 18 RM.

At the end I arrived on the island. Off the coast of Kedah, Langwaki is not a single island. It is a cluster of 99 small islands offering different worlds: beautiful beaches, mangroves rich in flora and fauna, ultra-cheap duty-free shopping and fascinating legends.

 

  • ISLAND LEGENDS

If you go around asking to local people the history of the name they will tell you the tragic story of a beautiful young lady named Mahsuri. It is a tale of love, jealousy and a curse that was placed upon the island by her for seven generations.

Today, people still believe that the prosperity and blessings is not a simple coincidence. The mysticism of this legend can be felt in many parts of this island, especially at Makam Mahsuri (Mahsuri's Mausoleum), where Mahsuri is said to be buried.

Her parents, Pandak Mayah and Mak Andak, originally migrated from a small Muslim village called Prabang, near Phuket, Thailand. Mahsuri was born and raised in Langkawi, in the early 1800s, and later married a local warrior named Wan Darus. Her husband soon left to join the fight against the invading Siamese.

While he was away, Mahsuri innocently befriended a young man who just happened to be traveling through the area (and obviously not a warrior). The village chief’s wife, who was jealous of Mahsuri’s beauty, then spread rumors of Mahsuri being unfaithful to her husband and the rest is history (or legend if you will). She was falsely accused of adultery and sentenced to death. Mahsuri was executed by knife in 1819.

The Legend recorded in the island history tell that the Siamese invaded Langkawi not long after Mahsuri’s death and razed the island to the ground with a scorched earth policy. And coincidentally, Langkawi did not become a major tourist hotspot until the birth of Wan Aishah bt Wan Nawawi, the seventh generation descendant of Mahsuri.

  • ISLAND TREASURIES

Tourism is one of the most important activities but many of the islanders are still farmers and fishermen. For this the food you will eat is really good and fresh!

 

One of the beauty of this island is the countryside and peaceful landscape of paddy fields you will enjoy by renting a moto bike and taking a leisurely drive around the island. Some of Langkawi's most rustic and memorable views are along the road that circles the island far from the most touristic places.

You'll experience small villages with wooden houses framed by palm trees, and children pedaling their old bicycles on errands.

But if you like to hike you can also do that in the island small mountains. They are for free, so you need only the willing to start and go to the top!

If you are too lazy there is another possibility: there is a new cable car that can bring you to the summit of Mount Mat Cincang - Langkawi's second highest mountain - for an unrivalled view of the entire main island and beyond.

Other popular destinations are the Field of Burnt Rice, Hot Springs, Telaga Tujuh (The Seven Wells) and the Beach of Black Sand.

You can also enjoy a Boat tour to Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Maiden), Gua Cerita (Cave of Stories) and Gua Langsir (Curtain Cave) if you will have the time!

What I wrote is not exhaustive; it is possible to do much more in this beatiful island.

So going back to my trip, I passed 2 lovely days in the island before going to Koh Lipe in Thailand.

I stayed in a hostel in Cenang, a good location to start your day and decided where to go!

The first day I was walking all around the main beaches enjoying the sun and the music. There was a blues festival on the island in those days so in the afternoon I passed my time listen good live music and drinking some beers.

The second day in change I took a moto bike and I was all around the island pausing to visit the waterfalls and the 7 wells. From there you can start to hike to the top of the Mount Mat Cincang. It takes around 2 hours to arrive to the top. Before leaving th island the 3rd day I decided to go before the time of departure to Kuah to walk a bit around the village and enjoy the Legend Park and the view from the eagle square.

See you in Koh Lipe!!

 

LITTLE LOCAL FISHERMEN PARADISE!

If you want to live a unique experience Pangkor is the perfect place. The island has a long history of conquests and community. Indians, Chinese, Dutch, Thailand and Malaysian came here and mix their culture in a particular way.

It is a little island, quiet and chilling more than tourist hotspots like Langkawi. It is located off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Perak. It has everything you want for an island escape, with sleepy fishing villages, relaxed atmosphere and amazing views.

You can reach the island from Lumut where you take a ferry that takes 30 minutes to arrive. I left the ferry at the first stop, because my hostel was much closer but there is another one, after this stop. Pangkor is 18 square kilometers, but the good surprise is how much you can do, and what you can see.

  • First Day: snorkeling and bike

The first day I did snorkeling in the morning, a small boat bring me and other people all around the island explaining what  you see, and after, it stops closed to a small island let you the time to relax and watching fishes. I was the only European; the others were all Malaysian and Thailand people. They all together tried to explain me in English the information the driver was telling us. I paid 30 RM (eight Euros) for 3 hours.

After I came back, I had lunch in a small Chinese restaurant (5RM) and I stayed for a while in the hostel. In the afternoon, I rent a bike and I was to visit the Dutch fort that is in the south part of the island. The bike cost 15 RM for one day.

I took the bike and I started my personal tour of the island! First, I was to the Dutch fort, nothing special but it was good to go and close to the sea take some pictures of the small anglers’ boats and their homes. In front of it there is also a mosque, good to see but I wanted to stay on the beach and take the sun so I turn right in Pankgor city for another direction and after 5 km I arrived to the first beach. The name is Pasir Bogar beach, I stopped half an hour just taking pictures and watching the sea... I missed it!! In front of me Pangkor Laut island, famous for a resort, out of my pocket money….. One night costs almost 2.000€.

After that I took again the bicycle and I continued on the road. Here there was the first difficult road piece. There are 2 climbs of 10%, so I tried but I had to go on foot with the bike in my hands. No problem I made it!

Good point: after the climb, there is always a downhill. Flowing with the wind on my bike I reached the Monkey bay and the nipah beach where I stopped to stay for 2 hours. This beach is known as the best one of the island and in front of it, there are two small island, Mentagor and Giam islands that during the morning I visit with the snorkeling tour.

The fisherman driver told us that 3 days before and 3 after the Chinese New Year night, the water go down and you can go by foot from Nipah beach to both the islands. Around five, I restart my ride to go back to the hostel in SG. Pinang Kechil Jetty. Here I arrived to Teluk Dalam easily. This is a local small village, as I love these type of places I stopped also here in front of the bay and I took same photos with the sun that was going down...

From here to the hostel, the road was hard, but I did it! At seven, I arrived to my hostel and I finally chilled a bit, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. At height o’ clock, I was to eat something. Chinese food, good and with the beer I spent 20 RM (4 Euros).

So my first day finished and I was waiting for the next one!

  • Second Day: chilling in the hostel

Day 2: The rain was falling down when I woke up at 7 am. Therefore, I took my time having a coffee and breakfast. At 9am, I take again the bike and I was to Teluk Gedund, another village at the end of the island, closed to a mosque build on the water.  I continued to reach again Pasir Bogar beach and I chilling there one hour after coming back because my rent time finished!

As did the day before, I had lunch with noodles and tea (6RM) and I rest in the hostel for the afternoon.

A curiosity is that in past times this area was a center for piracy. The pirates had their home ports in the Pulau Gedung Hills, Gua Lanun (Pirates' Cave) and Batu Perompak (Pirates' Rock) on the island of Pangkor. After the Dutch period, during the British rule, the name was temporarily been Monkey Island.

In conclusion, Pangkok was a good experience as you can see fishermen villages covered by a Chinese atmosphere as Sungai Pinang Kecil and Sungai Pinang Besar. Next stop was Langkawi Island, at the extreme north boarder where Malaysia touches Thailand. It is known for the white beaches and to be a free port island.

 

 

 

KUALA LUMPUR: THE INNOVATIVE MALAYSIAN CAPITAL CITY!

As my parents were travelling after Christmas, I decided to go on holidays during Christmas time!

Two objective: warm place and sea as mandatory because I was frozen in Turin due to the winter started.

I was thinking to go in Thailand but some friends told me it would be so full of tourists during this period and if I would like a place without too many tourist to change my idea.

After searching for a good and economic destination, I felt in a cheap ticket to Malaysia and so I bought it. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur where I spent 2 days to let me the time for recovering the energies and be used to the time change.

A multitude of cultures infused in one place, mix into one melting. You will enjoy your time savoring the amazingly diverse culinary options and exploring what the city has to offer. KL's unique diversity - the Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnicity - have all injected their own unique influences to the city's art, language, architecture and night scenes. The city is full of flavors, colors and experiences to explore.

To go from airport to the city center is easy, there is a train that takes 30 minutes and you paid it 55RM, so don’t take a taxi and I searched for the KL express.

As I arrived in the afternoon, I left the bag in the hostel in China Town and I decided to go for a walk to start visiting the city.

My hostel was on China town, so I thought better to leave this area for the late afternoon/ evening. Therefore, I started from the Eco Park and without any fix direction I arrived to the KL tower. I was inside the building, not for a specific reason. A person at a small souvenir shop told me I could go up to see the view from the top. I was thinking to see the panorama from the Petronas towers but from there it would not be possible to take picture from above of them, so I decided to go up here and left the Petronas tower. The cost was 55RM or 105RM if you want to go also to the open floor (that is the best one).

This is called Sky Deck and it is at 421 meters above ground level. Here there is also the KL Tower Sky Box. At 300 meters up, the Sky Box extends out from the Sky Deck ledge. It is a unique experience for visitors to enjoy the panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur.

After the KL tower, I was walking to the Petronas twin towers. This is recognized as symbol of the Malaysia future and globalization. The Towers symbolizes also the Malaysian culture: the interior motifs are a reflection of local handicrafts and weaving patterns, while stainless steel and glass combine beautifully as Islamic patterns. The design of each Tower's floor plate is based on simple Islamic geometric forms of two interlocking squares, creating a shape of eight-pointed stars. Architecturally, these forms describe important Islamic principles of "unity within unity, harmony, stability and rationality".

In front of the towers, there are fountains that during the evening and night are the basement of a light show. The dancing fountains perform daily from 12noon to 2pm, and then again from 6pm to 11pm. You have to be in the park down the twin to see them.

After I looked the first show in the night, I left to go back to the hostel, as I was tired by the trip.

Day 2 in Kuala Lumpur: Batu Caves and KL city

The day after I woke up and I took the metro to Batu Caves. I am amazed about KL public transportation. It is far away from Indian average, the Asia country I visited most. Batu Caves have a direct train ride from KL Sentral. Therefore, it was easy to go and it takes half an hours. I spent the morning at the temples that remember me India at all.

One of Kuala Lumpur most distinctive geographical features, the place is a labyrinth of spooky caves found within the country's limestone abutments. When you arrive, you see the first Indian temple and at the right side a cave where you can enter for 5RM. I liked it very much because inside there is a whole story told through statues and written descriptions on the walls.

When you will finish the cave visit, the direction is the gold statue. There you can reach the biggest pull of natural caves thanks to 272 steps. From the top, you can view Kuala Lumpur in front of you and starts the visit to the main temple.

If you wear shorts, no problem. At the entrance, there are women that for 5RM rent you a sarong. When you will give back to them, the refund is 2RM.

For this temple no fee at the entrance. If you like to stay more when you go down on the right side there is the “Dark cave” when you can go inside to observe some cave’s animals and the tour tales 45 minutes. I don’ remember the price, but I think is around 35 RM.

When I finished I went to take the train back to the city and after a coffee, I started to walk again. The first site was the central market. Revamped and revived as a huge gifts emporium, the Art Deco wet market, www.centralmarket.com.my, nonetheless provides a focal point for piecing together K.L.'s past, taking in its current artsy-crafty pulse and exploring nearby Chinatown. On the ground floor, portraitists and street artists can be found — giving a dose of old-time character along the long-obscured riverfront. After that I left the city bring me where it wants without any plan. I reached the sultan palace, nice and the textile museum in front of the Merdeka Square.

After this, I was inside the mosque close to there and I walked till the mural of Ernest Zacharevic and going around the city with no destination. The streets of KL are already well marked with road signs and all you need is a map. There are also dedicated sidewalks for pedestrians that are shaded by the trees. And do feel free to ask a tourist police or a friendly local for help whenever you need to!

I closed my afternoon back to the hostel visiting Chinatown during the evening. I was there the night before but I desire to see it also in daytime.

It was the 24th so I had a dinner for Christmas night with the other hostel guests at the rooftop of it, we drink beers and we went out to celebrate with locals the night. It was great. Malaysian were all around the city drinking and celebrating with fake snow spread on all the people they met!

BARCELLONA: STREETART WALK – THE POBLENOU

Barcelona has become a'huge urban art gallery. The city you will see is totally different: the industrial Barcelona, the greatest painted walls with graffiti, stencils and urban-art in every corner.

You will have in front of you a contemporary art gallery and an open sky above you. In these streets you will observe the main murals and the most representative works of the road culture.

The Barcelona Street-art is a really good walk to do in the city. There are several streets and alleys of the various districts full of graffiti and paints.

An alternative can be to rent a bike and  ride along the street art and graffiti areas in Barcelona, enjoying a truly authentic part of Barcelona.

There are also some organized tour if you prefer to visit this part of the city with a guide.... an example is barcelonastreetstyletour!

The neighborhood I'm speaking about is the industrial Poblenou that has begun a steady transformation from area full of disused factories to one of hi-tech office blocks, stylish hotels and modern apartments!

The area is considered a creativity hub in Barcelona. One of the most famous place of this part of Barcelona is : L’Escocesa creation center  but if you look all around you will find a myriad of small galleries and studios.

If you are interested in this art, once a year, during March, there is the the Poblenou Open Day. During the event several workshops of different artists are open to the public, concentrating allowing visitors to explore music, conferences, interaction and street food.

It is really nice to walk up and down the Rambla del Poblenou that is the heart of the social life of the neighborhood. You can eat, drink or just chilling a bit sitting in a bar drinking a cerveza. If you want to try some good tapas, try delicious tapas at El 58, stop for a pint of local beer at Cervecita nuestra de cada día.  

This is in the Gotic Barrio but I loved it!

PORTO : A FAIRYTALE IN THE NORTH OF PORTUGAL

Porto is a quiet city, really nice for long walks on sunny days. Porto has changed during the last years. I was there more than 10 years before and I can say now

it is a touristic city that is growing in beauty and in charm. I was really happy to see a new renewed Porto, full of colors and life.

Let yourself be inspired by the narrow alleys, the ocean breeze and the vibrant colors of the houses: Porto is really a magical city and has a very long history.  It is less crowded than Lisbon if you prefer an elegant but not crazy night life city to visit.

The visit to the city can start from the famous Livrarua Di Lello and Irmao, It is one of the oldest and most spectacular libraries in the world. It is note especially because it inspired Harry Potter writer J.K.Rowling. It is a library in liberty style, full of treasures to discover. In the last few years, is necessary ticket to visit the library, at a cost of 4 euros which can be discounted to purchase a book (not cumulative).

A place I loved was the market of Bolhão that  is a symbol of the buildings of the center of Porto and is the most important market of the city. The project was originally made by the Architect António Correia da Silva and dated back to 1850. The inauguration was in 1914. I decided to buy fresh fish and vegetable and cooked them at home!

If you are looking for a relaxing experience, you can opt for a walk on Luis bridge at sunset. The bridge was built in 1831 and it connects the port with the town Vila Nova de Gaia, famous for the wine cellars with wine tasting of the famous Porto wine.

My Friend and I having a walk

 

In Villa Nova My friend and I decided to do a tour to know better the Porto Story. We decided for the Offley.  Located in Vila Nova de Gaia near the waterfront, at Caves Offley you will learn the fascinating story of the Baron of Forrester and its role in the Port wine industry. In this guided tour through the cellar, there will be wine Port tastings and for small groups of connoisseurs there is also available an intimate visit with a wider selection of Port Wine tastings. Founded in 1737  by William Offley the company became international and today is one of the most important Porto cellar. But if you desire to have a full experience of Porto Wine you need to go in the Douro Valley and see with your eyes the grapevines from the river. Amazing!

If you are hungry after the walks I suggest a place where you can eat a lot of fish for a good price: Restaurante Casa Adão.

If time permits, a trip toward the Ocean is a good option. You can do it in 2 different ways:

  • aboard the characteristic yellow tram,.The tram line 1 - Infante - Passeio Alegre is located in front of the San Francisco. church. The ticket costs 2,50€ and it can be done directly on board.
  • Or you can take a small boat from Villa Nova de Gaia and do a small trip under the 5 bridges of the city till the Ocean. I did this. We bought a ticket with the boat tour, a tasting in the Porto Cruz building and a tour in the OFFLEY cellar.  We bought the ticket directly in front of the river and we paid 12 Euro.

When you want to go back to the other part of the city you can also take a cable-way, that will bring you to the top in front of the saint Luiz. Nice to go after the sunset because you see the city full of lights!  The cost id around 7 Euro for both ways.

Another thing to do, a  good way to visit the city with a guide is a walking tour, for example with portowakers  . 

If you like the street art they also organize some good walking tour in the afternoon on it!

 

 

PALOMINO: WHERE THE TIME STOPS HIS FLOW

The first imagine I remember of Palomino is the picture below:

My first thought: yes it is! The paint was on a wall, close to the point where the bus stop. It is not a real bus stop, there is an old bus station, and you leave the bus there when you heard: “Palomino!”

When you watch around you at the beginning, you see only a long road that divides the small village in two parts. From there, you cannot immediately understand the soul of the place.
I have to say that I stopped in Palomino just because some days before in the “Ciudad perdida” trekking I met a Colombian guy, really beautiful and gentle, a guide for the 5 days trekking.
During the long walk in the middle of the Sierra Nevada, we had a lot of time to know each other deeper and deeper. One of the long talks we had was on the places I did not have to loose on my journey discovering Colombia.
So, He told me to go to Cabo de la Vela and before that He suggested to stop some days in his “finca” outside Palomino, just chilling under the pilework He built, drinking rum, sleeping on the hammocks, enjoy the view and going to the beach passing through the cocoa palm forest He had to take care of.

Before going ahead, I would like to introduce the Sierra Nevada, called the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is the birthplace of the Tayrona, an indigenous civilization of the north Colombia. The descendants of the Tayrona still live there. Currently there are almost 70,000 indigenous people, belonging to the Kogui, Arhuaco, Kankuamo and Wiwa ethnicities. This mountain formation contains an area of particular beauty and mystery with a great cultural heritage. The area is a sacred sight for the four indigenous groups that inhabit the Sierra and it is called Teyuna Archeological Park also known as the “Ciudad Perdida”. This Park start from the mountains and slide down till the Caribbean see where you find Palomino.

Coming back to my story, I decided to meet this guy, because He seems a really great person and as Italian I couldn’t say no. In Italy when somebody invite you to his home, it is good habit to go and pass time there cooking for  an Italian dishes to thank for the invitation. I did it of course!

So stopped in Palomino. I searched a moto taxi asking to bring me to my friend and the drivers knew him and the place where he lived. He was not born in this area, so all the locals called him the foreigner.

After 10 minutes, we arrived and I was surprised! Such a beautiful and peaceful place… To let you understand the best thing I can do, is show you pictures, as my words can tell you what my eyes saw but better let you dream on my pictures, hoping you will enjoy them!

As you can see, I felt myself totally free and full of happiness. I was there and the time stopped for two days let me the time to steal the energy and the good vibrations of this place.

We spent the day drinking coffee, Colombian one. Locals love to pass all the day with a cup of good coffee in their hands smelling his flavor and enjoy a talk with a friend in front of it.
However, when the sun was going down we moved to cross the cocoa palm forecast and we went to watch the sunset from the beach.

Another surprise. We were at the end of the land where the river became part of the sea. You can take a bath in the fresh water or decided for the salt water.
We were almost alone because from Palomino village, it is a walk long 5 Km and not all the people love to walk so long.

After 2 hours, we decided to go back to my new temporary home because we were hungry. My friend asked what we would like to eat and I said fish! We called an angler of Palomino that arrived with this big fish ( many beers and a bottle of rum):

I had the honor to cook it! Wonderful! However, I can say that one of the amazing things of Palomino is the fresh fish you can find.

The second day I was with another guy, hosted by my friend to buy fish and after half an hour of searching and asking to local people we found some good, rural fish shops! Yes in Palomino you need to talk with locals to find the best food and activities to do.

We spent a good night there forgot by everyone, talking and drinking all together. Anyway, you can pass the night in the village, that did not have a crazy nightlife, but there were plenty of bars where friendly travelers chat, enjoying tropical cocktails and cheap beers.

The day after I decided to go for a rafting, a typical activity to do in Palomino as there are many rivers and one of that is perfect for an easy rafting. You rent inner tubes, ride with them on the back of a moto taxi up into the jungle, hike a bit further, and then float back down to the beach on a river. Everywhere you go in town there are booths offering to rent tubes. You pay around 5 Euro.

In conclusion, I can say Palomino was unexpectedly a nice place to pass 2 days and after restart with my journey!

CABO DE LA VELA, A JUMP IN THE UNKNOWN DESERT OF COLOMBIA!

Colombia, one of the best Country I was in my life. Cabo de la Vela a dream, a place where relax is not an option, is a must. I’m trying to remember exactly the feeling and the sensation I had in that place because it was a unique moment in my 2017 summer…..

This photo was taken in Cabo de La Vela during the first morning I was there in August 2017. The place is so beautiful and peaceful, perfect to relax yourself!!

Cabo de la Vela is definitely one of the most beautiful and less popular destinations in the country. Yes, because Cabo de la Vela is something indefinite and fairy tale that makes you completely lose the conception of time and space and the desire to return to reality. It is a nowhere place, desert in the extreme north Colombia.

Cabo de la Vela is a mirage that comes unexpectedly. I remained positively surprised in front of such a prodigy of nature. The colors, blue and yellow of the sand are the dominant colors that reveal their indisputable complementary in the three natural elements that you feel alive in this peninsula: air, water and earth. A mystical place, where the connection with nature is so strong to regenerate any of your cells, animal or vegetable that here you will meet.

 

Cabo de la vela is populated by a tribe of fishermen, the wayuu who live in this land forgotten by many. They are lands never occupied by foreign peoples because of the very harsh climate, the average temperatures are 35-Celsius degrees. These spaces belong to an unknown dimension, one of those places where time takes a breath and slows down its rhythm.

One road where the village comes to life around the bamboo huts where the locals live. Electronic devices are used only for communications between locals that organize the jeeps and accommodations to meet the few requests of the people who come here. Furthermore, the electricity arrives to this place only few hours after 5 o clock in the afternoon and you are seduced by all those things that are typical of the western world.

The hours run very slow marked by the sweetness of the sun that marks the time. The inebriation of the breeze that raises from the see to the sand is always with you in your hair. After the sun goes down, you will leave that world and sleep until the next morning.

But let me tell you my trip!

You arrive there after a long road. I left Palomino with a friend in the morning, where I stayed in a “finca” of a new friend met during the trekking to the “Ciudad Perdida”. If you want to know, more about this exiting experience read my article on it! (Link to be added)

After the bus that was almost 8 Euro for going from Palomino to Rioacha, we had a lunch in the small city and we went to change money in an mall. Remember to change money because from Rioacha in the entire Guajira peninsula, you cannot withdraw money.

Many people normally prefer to take an organized travel to visit Cabo, Punta Gallinas and say: “Yes, I was in the northeast point of South America!” The price is around 120 Euro for 2 and half day.

I decided to go on my own as I love freedom and if I love a place, I can stay more…..

So after the break we took another bus (for 5 Euro) to the “4 vias”, a crossroad where you find drivers that will bring you with an off road vehicle finally to Cabo de La vela.

    

For my friend and me, it was such an adventure because to say the truth…. I did not take a bus but a Jeep with other Colombian people that normally transport goods… Good experience to tell….

Anyway we waited there for 2 hours, because the driver were waiting for somebody else, make more money and convince more people to take the tour they organize.

 We paid 20 Euro for the transportation. The road is like a movie, there is only sand around you and the rails walk at your right side as they are telling you where to go. Sometimes during this, hour and half you see some local people chilling under a curtain that try to sell water bottles or juices. Unfortunately, as there are always 35 degrees all the liquids are not cold!

One tip: Before going there buy the natural water, you think you will need there. You can buy some water in the small shops but it cost a lot!

We arrived to Cabo de la Vela during the sunset and we had to search a place for sleeping. No problem, in Cabo the locals have huts and hammocks everywhere. Therefore, it is not difficult to find a place to stay. What you have to decide is how much you want to pay, what you want to do! Yes, they normally sell the beds and the mini tour you can do in the area.

After bargaining for one hour, I found what I desired… A place in front of the beach where to sleep first for one night (we remained 2 nights finally) and the tours for the day after plus Punta Gallinas for 2 days (Accommodation and food included with the transportation around the peninsula). All this for 60 Euro.

Among the place to visit there is the “Pilar de Azúcar”, which according to the tradition wayuu would be the sacred place where the souls of the dead people take refuge to rest and take care of the village and secure their dreams of peace and tranquility.

amazing view from the pick closed to Cabo de La vela village

amazing view from the pick closed to Cabo de La vela village

amazing view from the pick closed to Cabo de La vela village

To recap the total price:  for transportation from Palomino plus 2 nights in Cabo de la vela and one in Punta Gallinas, the tours to visit the areas and the transportation to go back to Rioacha was: 90 Euro but with 1 day and half more than the organized travel.

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