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Sochi

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Remember, I finished the last blog entry with the news of continuing the snowboarding season in a very unexpected place? Here it is, welcome to…Sochi!

We haven’t skied outside Alps in many years, I actually only have been to the Pyrenees and USA-Canadian mountains besides the alpine experience. So, going to Sochi’s Olympic facilities was quite thrilling! But not only did the mountains excite me, but the city itself.

For those who don’t know me since childhood: I spent a big deal of it in Sochi because my grandparents live there, so sending the kids away to the sea for the hot months was an annual practice. I could take friends and cousins with me, my grandparents loved everyone around and it was always such a blast! At some point, as the summers started getting hotter, grandma and grandpa would go to the north to escape the heat, and we would get an apartment for ourselves, yay! Still being underaged and not being able to travel abroad alone, this was luck of a lifetime! My real adult parties started on Plotforma of Sochi. Nostalgic I get!

I had not visited Sochi in almost 7 years, though! So I did not see how it had changed after the Olympic Committee decision to run the Winter 2014 Games there. I was expecting something spectacular, of course. Considering that in my childhood Krasnaya Polyana was just a field of donkeys’ poop with 2 old funiculars where you had to lock yourself to an iron chair with a chain that would end up hanging on the level of your knees. The facilities turned out to be even nicer than I expected. Everything is modern and good-looking. It surprised me, though, that even on the days with crowds of people the lifts were still running at their lowest capacity level. That caused very long lines, of course. I guess this typical Russian “protocol above common sense” did not pass Sochi by, either. Some areas like the Southern Slope definitely lack 2-3 additional lifts to eliminate Disneyland-in-China-like lines. But there is night skiing which is absolutely a cool thing not that common for Europe! In general, everything is open until late, which is normal practice in Russia, but unusual after Alps where even apres-ski bars often close down before dinner.

The service, despite desperate attempts to be on the highest level, also suffers quite often. We stayed at Rosa Springs Hotel, which obviously lacks simple vertical management. Too much staff on the same operational level causes pure chaos. They would smile at your as bright as the sun, but no requests can ever be met – only following the protocol, again. The hotel itself is also just too big. Taking it 15 minutes of walking in a bathrobe to get to the swimming pool as a bit annoying. Especially if you learn at the end of the journey that the spa area is closed out of the blue. It was not that bad, don’t take me wrong. I just really prefer small cozy family hotels of Tyrol.

The food is decent taking into consideration Russian sanctions against edible foods. The restaurants “Груша” (“Pear”) up on Rosa Khutor where we stayed and “Шале” (“Chalet”) down in the village were quite good, with few remarks from my foodie self.  We celebrated Ksusha’s Birthday at Harat’s Pub and it was a total blast! Such good life music and vibe! I haven’t danced this crazily since St. Petersburg’s Dumskaya street, if you know what I mean 😉

The best thing was the weather! +15 in the sun? – yes, please! Too warm to ski? No! On the peaks it stayed cold enough, and the snow getting soft and wet closer to the bottom wasn’t annoying at all as it is so heavy that it doesn’t get lumped into mogul-like bumps. Snowboarding was very pleasant, so was our time there in general, because we were a big fun crowd with a lot of champagne and good mood!

 

I couldn’t wait to see the city of Sochi. On a nice Monday afternoon we drove down. The new roads are awesome! No traffic jams which used to be so typical in my childhood, all modern junctions, we made it there like on a rocket! My grandparents live away from the touristic center now, in a very quiet beautiful area close to the beach. So much had been built in Sochi, it’s unbelievable! And I don’t mean just the new skyscraper hotels; the suburbs are full of unfinished condos. I can tell that the construction fever swept over the area big deal. A lot of companies obviously went bankrupt and countless projects remain abandoned, wondering what their destiny is going to be. Th city changed its face completely. We even took a small city bus instead of waiting for a driver to look around a bit. Some areas remain untouched, but all downtown is framed in modern grandiose constructions now.

Me and Ksusha stayed in town for the evening to walk along the famous promenade which I must have walked more than thousand times in my life and grab dinner. The promenade looks the same, I wonder if the same camel Yasha still sits there in summer. Everything is, of course, quiet during the winter time, but there were still a lot of people having a slow romantic walk glazing at the sea. I liked it even more than the crazy summer with a lot of noise and fuss. Market tents where I used to buy every single bracelet made out of shells when was a kid are now replaced with less authentic, all in the same style, townhouses, on the ground level of which are still same souvenirs being sold. but it looks more classy and harmonious than those random tents were. I loved the tents, though! The main entertainment for little me when in Sochi with grandparents or aunt was to take a walk to the promenade and persuade them to buy me something useless but urgently desired.

When I go to the city where I don’t know a place for dinner, I always check on Instagram, 2018 is so straightforward. Sochi doesn’t have a city foodguide account which came as a big surprise to me. If I moved there, I would develop one myself right away! So if you are from Sochi and you know food, please create a guide asap, it’s gonna get famous at one point anyways 😉 I picked 3 places to chose from: Marinad, Old Boys “Pirs” (why the hell are there no normal websites?! this needs to be fixed by the local food society, too) and Syndicate. The first two seemed proper just for the warm season, so we went to the Steak House “Syndicate”. A bit Russian-style-wanna-be-posh in my opinion, but good! Quite a decent wine selection incl. per glass, which is not very common for expensive restaurants in Russia; indeed good meat with a fine understanding of what I mean under “I want this raw, please”; nice service and a cool design, too! I just remember from my childhood that the selection of where to eat was either an outdoor grill place with karaoke and drunk tourists after which you smell like a kebab more than a kebab does, or an awfully decorated with all glittery restaurant so expensive that it would be ridiculous to go there even for a coffee, which always left those empty or rarely hosting drunk crowds of some nouveau riches. It was good to see that the city developed quite well gastronomically. I read good reviews on quite a few places, and just walking on the streets it seemed that the resort managed to attract some gastronomes with good taste. My overall impression of the new Sochi was very positive.

 

If I lived in Russia, I would probably love to live in Sochi. Hope to come back in another 7 years at least!

Meanwhile, Vienna is still cold; looks like this year we will have a proper long winter which didn’t happen the past 5 years since I’m here. My snowboarding season is far from being over, and next week I will already ride on in a new area. To be continued! 🏂


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Lech am Arlberg

Снимок экрана 2018-01-24 в 21.26.37Season’18 has officially been opened!

Those who know me are aware that I am a passionate snowboarder. Paradoxically, that didn’t make me any more passionate about winter – I still extremely dislike the cold and I am a Grinch. But the Alps make me happy. Because it’s usually sunny here. It’s not exactly the low temperatures that annoy me but rather high humidity and lack of light in winter. The mountains are dry, clean and sunny – and even more amazing when you can observe them on a relatively high speed that the snowboard gives me. Under the hashtag #snowboarding there are some of my alpine stories, but the history of my relationship with mountains goes back 15 years.

This year we started out adventures at a new spot where had never been before – Lech. We know Austrian Alps the best I assume but there are always new slopes to check. I liked the snowboarding possibilities in Lech: there are relatively wrong connected routes to neighboring valleys, the lifts build up a comfy chain without many horizontal crossings. Apres-ski choice is just awesome! But there are not many young people since this resort is quite expensive. Be ready to pay starting with 35 Euros for a bottle of simple wine at a regular cafe (in comparison, at Bad Hofgastein you’d pay 14 for it). If you want to have more younger people and party around – chose St. Anton which is next to Lech. We went there couple times and enjoyed the food, shopping and the choice of entertainment. But the slopes must be more crowded there, whereas Lech was very easy-going with no queues even on the weekends of the high season. 

I can’t tell much about gastronomy of the town. We had dinners in our hotel and found out that was a better alternative after had tried few places in town. The two Italian restaurants (Olympia and Don Enzo) were ok, but they are still Austrian Italian restaurants, if you know what I mean. It’s not the dinner you would eat anywhere in Italy, honestly. The traditional Stube Handl Tyrol was nice – affordable real Austrian food, if you are a fan you gonna be satisfied. Still, nothing special in town. However, there are better restaurants in Oberlech! Hotel Sonnenburg has very delicious tartar, for example. 

Verdict: a good compromise between a fun town and good quality slopes, shift towards the slopes. Better for families and people with income above average than for the students. Was a very warm and cozy vacation for us because we stayed in a nice family hotel and went as an entire family ourselves.

…the season is to be continued in a few days! In the most unexpected from me place 😉


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2o¡8

IMG_1428Happy 2018! Now all the celebrations are almost over (there is an “Old New Year” on the 13th of January for the Russians, too) and I am currently on vacation in Lech, Austrian Alps. So, I have some time to put a tick for the first post of this year. Some might have noticed that I was trying to catch up with my missing posts while traveling in the train and wrote about my trips to Azerbaijan and Georgia.

A new year on the calendar doesn’t mean any gradual changes for me. I make no resolutions and expect no miracles, bottomless inspiration and motivation or extreme weight loss, definitely mot after the holidays I am having this year! This is just a nice-memories-post of how I spent the holidays this year. I decided to stay in Vienna for the first time and didn’t really have any idea what to expect. Traditionally, we started giving presents and sharing food at our pre-Christmas dinner with the girls. which we host few days before Christmas. Last year it was at my place, this time Isabella invited us and our Olivier-bowls over.

For Christmas, me and Dani went to his family. We all stayed in an amazing house in the woods of the Austrian-Slovenian Alps, isolated from any means of civilization. We could see the whole milky way from our balcony! It was just awesome. For me it was always the first time I was staying with somebody’s closest family since my Christmas in the USA. I felt as a kid when we all searched for our presents under the tree and passed plates full of home-made food across a huge dinner table during 3 days. Many thanks to the Schobers! ❤

For New Year’s Eve, we came back to Vienna. I didn’t make any huge plans since I knew that it is not as much of a big deal here as it is in Russia. We started with proper daytime barhopping across our favorite bars, meeting acquaintances, collecting champagne glasses and delicious snacks followed by hugs and empty bills. Motto am Fluss held a nice brunch (which I had smartly reserved in October) and, well, Roberto’s and Kleinod are my daily New Year’s Eve, and judging by the crowd outside, I am not alone there. I was sure that bars would be the most fun. They were indeed awesome, but I was surprised later at night, too. I was spending several New Years in recent years in hotels so I was used to people going out on the streets after midnight – it’s quite natural to do when you are not at your own home with your family and friends. But I was sure such a scene could be seen only on resorts and never expected such celebration scale outside in Vienna! Hundreds of people, concerts and drinks on every corner, so loud and so fun! I am super thankful that my closest Austrian friend Anna dragged us outside together with her family to join the city celebrations before going to our final destination – Dani’s newborn baby, Clandestino bar @Mercado. I knew I wanted to kiss him for the midnight, but staying there partying until sunrise was a pleasant bonus. The staff knows how to do it right, so a proper party was guaranteed in advance. Needless to say that I left Horst club wearing my long evening gown and completely unbothered jumped into a morning tram to go home.

First three days of this year I got up from the couch maximum 10 times I think. Cuddling with boyfriend, eating non-stop and drinking beer – what else to start a perfect year? Those three lazy days were just as good emotionally as all the celebrations!

I had to leave my comfy couch once to pack suitcases and head off to Lech. So seldom I got to spend Christmas with the family, and this year I had two! I was with my family for the Orthodox Christmas, which never happens because of my studies usually starting earlier. This year we got all together with my parents, beloved cousin and her husband to have wonderful joyful time in the mountains. I love our tradition which is turning 15 years this season for me and the parents, but I am also happy that we could go not as early as we always do and I got to spend Christian Christmas with Dani’s family and New Year celebrations (there were a few) with my friends who all also stayed in Vienna this year. It’s a magic!


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Frohoho

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Frozen hello from unusually cold this year Vienna! We are expecting the coldest winter in 100 years, which is a big demotivator to such low temperatures hater as me. 

I am also a Grinch, to those who don’t know (if such people exist, as I tend to scream about it on every corner). So this is no adore-artificial-lights-and-sugar-with-hot-water-called-punsch post. I am really not a fan of all this Christmas fuss at all. Why don’t I spend winters in warmer countries, one might ask? Well, because I snowboard every free week I get. This is the only good thing during this season for me, definitely not crowds of people in shops and smell if cinnamon that I am allergic to. Ok, sorry, done with the Grinch vibe. I am starting with the season only in January this year, this means the first time in Vienna for the holidays for me. I am actually excited! Doesn’t matter where, matters with whom, right? And unexpectedly all my friends are staying in town as well, so we are already starting with our pre-parties and giving presents in couple days! The presents I like.

I don’t make any NY resolutions since few years, either. Honestly, I get a feeling that they are for the weak. Why do you need a list on a specific date to make your life better? I am such plans and fine organization lover on everyday basis, some would even call it a control freak. But those lists are something I don’t understand. I am not saying that all this “new year – new me” is bullshit, nope, it can be a very strong psychological incentive for changes. But why follow some stupid bullet points and put pressure on yourself, if you can just be strong enough to follow what makes you happy and what drives your personal progress. So, no “visit Paris this year” for me, I’ll just go and visit. 

Even though I am not trying to come up with random resolutions here, summarizing the past year would take me just few sentences. It was a happy one, because I ate a lot of good food, I traveled to a lot of beautiful places, I spent it with the person I love. Not much more I need. I really find all those talks about personal achievements boring, so I am not gonna bore you, if I haven’t already. 

So, spend the holidays with the ones you love, if you got the chance. Merry Christmas and talk to you next year! Prost! 🍸

P.S.: Time to share the most exciting event for us this year: Daniel opened up his own bar, Clandestino. Whenever you are in Vienna, come visit! You will be amazed 😉 I am very proud, the best feeling to end this year with.


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UPD: fall’17

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Wow wow wow. More than 2 months it has been! Time flies. Hopefully this very cold and nasty winter will fly fast, too!

I feel like I owe some kind of an explanation to myself why I stopped running the blog. Technically, I never did, promise! There was just too much to write about at some point during all my summer travels, and when I don’t know where to begin – I end up writing nothing, That’s why there are still no full stories from Hong Kong or Cuba. Ooops! But I keep all in drafts and my yet good memory, and once it will be here (most likely when I am a jobless graduate).

As a quick update, I came back to Vienna in October and the past 2 months I have been here, besides a short trip to Salzburg with my boyfriend. I really feel like being in Vienna now, must admit I missed in in summer. I am even staying here for New Year’s for the first time ever. I am excited for the upcoming fun, especially since I found out Liza is coming over this week! And… the most exciting news for me: Dani is opening up his bar.🎉 🎎  I will just give one teaser: it’s gonna be awesome! So, if you are from Vienna – come visit us from the 7th of December on, you will LOVE it!

As soon as I am a bit more free, which hopefully comes to me for Christmas, I will catch up and tell more about my time in Barcelona as well as about the following trips to Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Croatia. I am also very happy to share my new favorite place in Italy, coming soon 😉

Happy holidays preparation, Glühwein tasting and presents wrapping to everyone! 


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Lignano

IMG_8533This is a very special post. It covers my first (and I am sure that more will follow) visit to a place that became special from the first days. Lignano is an Italian summer resort town on the Adriatic coast. I have been to this side couple times, but it couldn’t compare to Lignano! If I found myself there out of a sudden, I wouldn’t even guess that it’s Italy at all. No offense, Italy is the best country in the world for me, but Lignano is just very different from typical seaside resorts we are used to. Maybe I was so impressed because we went out of season, of course. Mid-September turned out to be just perfect. Yes, many restaurants and shops get closed for winter already; it rained few times, but it was a proper velvet season vacation.

Empty beaches with all facilities still available; no need to reserve a restaurant when the child is born to celebrate their 18th birthday there; empty sidewalks and bicycle ways (which we chose as main means of transportation even though we rented a car), pleasant deals in luxury hotels, etc. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The town itself is very neat and unbelievably green. We lived in Sabbiadoro district which looks more touristy and loud at night. It is separated from Pineta full of private houses rather than hotels by a beautiful forest. There are all kinds of sports facilities hidden in the green area, as well as a huge tennis club, two multiple yacht piers with oysters growing right on concrete docks. It’s a heaven on Earth. That rare case, when there is something to do for the young, the retired and the big families, too. Lignano is a miracle.

I could praise the place and its smart administration for long, but I am just impatient to switch to my favorite topics of all times: gastronomy. Italy is for eaters. Let me share some personal experience of my Eataly:

  • La Botte: the name means “barrel”, and having visited the place, I understand why. This is how you are gonna be feeling at the end. I have never in my life (and I ate a lot!) seen such huge portions. When you order a small portion of ravioli, you expect 3-5 pieces. Scroll down to food pics and check our small portions out. We were aware that the portions are quite big, but underestimated the scale because of relatively low prices. I honestly didn’t expect a bucket of pasta, good pasta, for 10ish euros. The thing is, everything is so delicious that you can’t part with the dish and give it away, doesn’t matter if you can’t breathe anymore. If you want to have simple but real tasty Italian food and stay on budget – visit La Botte and share one bucket portion with three friends.
  • Bidin: an elegant evening restaurant. Typical good Italian style of serving and design, wide wine choice, extended waiting time which makes the experience indeed special, too. Don’t come too hungry before the opening as we did, because the staff and the chef ain’t gonna hurry. The owner/manager was very attentive, though, and offered us a seat and drinks before the restaurant even opened. The food – excellent! Cold raw meat/seafood starters of excellent quality, proper Italian pastas of classic styles as well as with fresh seasonal seafoods. Very nice, definitely worth the price range.
  • Brigantino: a kind of place that I usually call “that local one”. Behind this I mean that the locals go there. Indeed, even during siesta, some people always sit outside chatting and will all get up to open up doors for the visitors, even if they are not the management and just happen to sit there with their buddies. An Italian place with some Austrian influence, everyone is speaking both languages (well, everyone in the region does, but the chef of a “una vera osteria italiana” is not gonna address his clients in German; there it doesn’t matter. Very cosy atmosphere, more of a family place than a posh date choice. I highly recommend beef tartar! They prepare it freshly the way you want right at your table, and it’s incredible!!! Everything else is very tasty, too, but the tartar just got our hearts. The staff is super nice and flexible: when we suddenly decided we want extra spaghetti aglio e olio as a side dish to the steak, but the meat was already done, our awesome waiter literally rushed to the kitchen and made sure we get spaghetti within 5 mins. We came back for that tartar 3 times, but on the third try the restaurant was already closed, I guess due to the end of the season. So, I have a reason to come back asap!
  • Sabbiadoro: probably the most “chic” restaurant of the resort. Haute cuisine in the flesh. Small portions of the things that one eats not to eat but to feel. The game of the tastes of everything I tried was inexpressible (is the word even in use?) but at the same time it wasn’t too much, if you know what I mean referring to gourmet. There are some presentations that sometimes simply don’t look edible, the taste doesn’t even matter that much then, if your mouth doesn’t water once you see the dish. Sabbiadoro restaurant is on point there. Raw seafoods plate, foie gras, slightly cooked scallops and red-prawn risotto were just as you can expect them in a restaurant of such class. What I didn’t like was the atmosphere. Completely empty and way too quiet I’d say. But I guess it must be like that just during the low season. Most of our dinner we were the only visitors to the place which makes me feel uncomfortable. All other places were semi-filled, even though Bidin is also quite price and situated far from tourists areas. I really hope that this one is full, loud and smelly of excellent food during the season!
  • Agosti: you can find this one in the very heart of the pedestrian area of Lignano Sabbiadoro district, which is usually not a good sign. For the first week, we avoided checking it out simply because we don’t trust such locations and go for the places where you have to jump over volcano and swim waters full of piranhas in order to get there. The more hidden – the more “local” is usually a rule with few exceptions. We gave it a try on one of last evenings, so good was the smell when we passed by daily. It was full, we hardly got a table despite it being end of September, so I guess I should recommend to reserve. We expected some simple but good seafood. However, what arrived to the table was quite a masterpiece! I always say that sauces and oils make the food. It just has to be fresh and with proper spices – then it’s already good food. Exactly the case: very fresh (something didn’t arrive on that day and the waitress honestly told us that it was available only frozen and we should better take the other one) and combined with proper breads and oils, side-dishes and sauces. I don’t really have more words to describe the food, we ate too much there to go into detail, can just say that it was an enjoyable experience.
  • Rueda Gaucha: last but not least which is worth mentioning. It’s a different type of a place, more Austian. A meat restaurant with several pasta dishes. There are Austrian speck-style starters and sausages for those who get tired of pastas, if it’s even possible. We hit it for proper steaks, they were expensive but extraordinary. I mean, I live in Austria, Austria knows good meat, it’s very accessible and the quality   can’t be doubted. But this is more of a usual steak because of the way it’s prepared, I think. No pans and grills in the kitchen. They throw your meat on the iron lattice right in front of a huge chimney of the main restaurant room. You watch the meat becoming your dinner. Definitely not a vegan kind of place. I don’t know if it’s firewood instead of gas or the meat is just very good, but all three kinds of steaks that we took were VERY good.

I must say that even though #italiansdoitbetter, there can always be disappointing dinner experiences everywhere, especially on popular resorts. Lignano was an exception: I didn’t have a single average meal in more than a week. This fact would already be enough for me to come back, but I fell in love with the town itself as well. Would be curious to see it during high season and then come back again when it gets empty.


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IST Layovers

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetIstanbul.

A town that hit me with so many emotions when I saw it for the first time. “Eastern charm with western mind”, “New Rome” and whatever else people call it, it deserves it all. One of the most unusual destinations, as I wrote in my early note. The city soul is so hard for me to understand, but the place itself is so easy to visit if you leave in Russia or in Europe that it is a shame not to do it. This summer I stopped there for a whole day twice. Long but comfortable daytime layovers must be a usual thing for the Ataturk Airport – a hub between Europe and Asia. I had one when I was flying from Tbilisi to Togliatti, and we also had time to go to the city with the parents when we were flying from Russia to Venice.

I don’t have many pictures to post, since I already have a complete gallery from my trip couple years ago. Neither do I have my usual food recommendations, since EVERYTHING there is worth a try. Must-eats for me are always iskender, original börek, rice pudding and künefe, but wherever I eat them, they are always a mouthorgasm. Therefore, this post is just a tribute to comfortable layovers, airports being close enough to city centers, cheap cabs of Istanbul and always-pretty city of cultural fusion.

First visit was hot and sunny. I walked so much and got so exhausted at some point, that I just fell asleep on the grass between the main mosques. I am not sure how acceptable that is, but there were other girls sitting there, so I didn’t hesitate a moment. I noticed, however, that every woman was wearing a long skirt. Not sure if it is my imagination after recent political changes and regime shifts in the country or locals’ appearance really had changed, but 2,5 years ago the crowd seemed to look a bit more “western” to me. Anyways, I always wear a long skirt when I know there is a chance I am gonna be sleeping on the ground between two main mosques, so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable.

I finally got up to the Galata tower. too! No queue at all, even though I was there during high season this time. Last time, we traveled in November, but the line was unbearable and we didn’t make it. Early morning is the answer, I arrived there 1 minute before the opening.

It was raining during my second day spent in Istanbul, but that visit was actually more unusual. Thanks to my dad, who persuaded us to take a ride to the center and walk under the rain. It was early in the morning, too, and we had extreme luck of being the only people inside the entire Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was a fairy-tale coming to life, when I pushed the doors to get to the inner yard always full of tourists groups…and it was empty. No lines to enter, no sounds, just us and one of the most impressive constructions of this world. I would highly recommend to chose bad weather and the least popular times to visit the sight. Taking parents to one of my favorite places with sweets, Hafiz Mustafa, to warm p a bit while having künefe with turkish coffee felt great, too! I love coming to the city which I already know well with someone new there and showing them around, makes me feel special and pay more attention to details, not to disappoint my guided group.

After having visited Istanbul in any kind of weather, I can tell that it is definitely a place to be during any season and with any company or even alone. A beautiful palace-like city with smells of sweets and coffee, people friendly in a typical Turkish hospitality way, but also very educated and up-to-date, which makes everyone a good conversation partner, it is a great destination choice.