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Porto

Снимок экрана 2018-04-10 в 11.26.47Happy spring, everyone! It’s been long since the last time most of us enjoyed the proper sunshine. And quite long since I enjoyed ocean views. Usually I take some time in winter to decide where I want to spend upcoming spring break, but this time it came naturally to me. Despite my long-term practice of never going to the same place two times in a row, which I don’t follow only if we talk about Italy, I was sure I wanted to go to Portugal again. First visited for Easter last year – and I fell in love from the first sight! Few people told me that if I loved Lisbon THAT much, Porto should be my next destination. Booked!

We were not as lucky with the weather as last time, but it was quite expected after the coldest winter in many years in Europe, so we were ready for few times raining. Surprisingly, considering how much I despise bad weather and anything below 25 degrees, it didn’t ruin my impressions of the town at all. But Porto in general seemed more rainy, because Lisbon was showing better weather every day. It’s a proper on-the-oceanside place with what I call «surf weather» – I remember those short crazy intense showers when it’s sunny 30 seconds after in Hawaii very well!
Porto is gorgeous. It combines everything I loved so much about Portugal with more of a “still tourist virgin” attitude. I had a good talk about this wit Cantina32 staff – a place I will tell about in just a minute 😉 Gastronomy is always the most important for me, but I never start posts with it not to get too carried away.
Hills. those portuguese hills! Even more incline than in Lisbon. Beautiful and slippery after rains tiles, so take comfy shoes with you. The tiles are also a separate chapter for me. I fell for them already couple years ago in Morocco, but this became a lifelong feeling last year in Lisbon. Somehow those grandiose marble tiles I see around in everyday life simply don’t catch my eye as much as smaller square ones with various patterns so different, that I run out of imagination. Thanks to trips to Portugal, now I am sure I want to have some beautiful tile-work when I will be decorating my own house once. It just seems so important for any beautiful design now. But how beautiful are they on the streets, house facades and even in cathedrals! One thing is when a designer plans a pattern and you proudly integrate it into some plain wall or on your bathroom floor; completely another – when the whole city is a never ending pattern! I think tiles are my new obsession alongside with gastronomy and pandas now. I am so happy that Instagram’s «Saved» is private sometimes, I’d look like a total freak.
We had a week in Portugal, 2 days out of which were devoted to Lisbon since Liza had not seen it yet. Best idea ever, I discovered the city once again and will add some bullet points to my last year’s recommendations some time soon! In general, I think one week for Portugal is enough if you plan to visit 2-3 main cities (Braga is worth seeing, too, I heard) and catch some gorgeous views over the ocean from the cliffs. Last year we rented a car and drove through few oceanside villages and got to Cabo da Roca. This time we took a train between Porto and Lisbon, which is also a fast and cheap option. One-way was 19 euros for us (caught my last days of under 25 discount, hehe), very fair compared to DB or OeBB trains I am used to paying hundreds for! So, I find five days enough to explore Porto well. If you are going to surf or spend time on beaches, you need more. I personally enjoy such places during out of season times, when they are not overcrowded with tourists. And the ocean water, with exception of the Caribbean, of course, has always been too cold for me to swim, so I am aimed more for sightseeing and FOOD experiences.IMG_6452
What I’d recommend:
  • Ribeira district. At any time, even during rain, it’s charming. Little restaurants, but not too many, so that you can still enjoy views with no tables in some directions. Order some porto to warm up if it’s windy, but when the sun is shining one can get some tan on sun-beds there already at the beginning of April. We ended up going to Café do Cais 3 or 4 times. even though I usually look for new places, that one is simply the coziest there. But some restaurants up along the pavement share a wonderful view as well, if you are lucky to grab a table that faces the river. Regarding sightseeing, there are Porto Cathedral with Terreiro de Sé and Palácio da Bolsa in that area, but I honestly didn’t find them to be anything super special; there are prettier places with more TILES in Porto.
  • Once you are in that area, check out Prova: wine bar, great selection; Belos Aires – the best food I ever ate in Portugal! just try everything there, the starters blew my mind but then my ossobuco came and I died; Cantina 32 is i think the best looking cafe I have seen: smooth light, deep grey color, simple and very stylish design, nicest staff and flawless food, their banana cheesecake seems to be the most famous dessert in Porto based on my instagram research.

     

  • Eat francesinha. It is a typical traditional food of porto that is a sandwich with ham, crunchy sausage, steak or few other meat types inside, covered by melted cheese, often topped with an egg and baked with a very special beer and tomato sauce in which they throw extra french fries. It’s crazy how tasty this simple thing can get! They call it a hangover sandwich, and I really wouldn’t mind having one every tough morning of life. It’s served pretty much everywhere, my first I ate just in some street cafe next to Hard Rock Cafe, then at that place by the river. The most famous ones are served in Cafe Santiago, Cervejaria Brasão, Bufete Fase and Offline (another place for taking pics). But honestly they seemed to be delicious everywhere. IMG_6703
  • Go to Foz do Douro. Its a wealthy quiet neat district where the river flows into the ocean. One of the best ocean views you can get not having to leave the city. The famous lighthouse that is often on postcards from Porto is found there. I was sure that such a place will be full of tourists and have a crowded promenade with shops and cafes – not at all. We actually struggled with finding a place to eat there. It’s an untouched natural beach with an old castle and spectacular views on high waves breaking against rocks. If you want more civilization and a regular beach – go up to Matosinhos district. I randomly went there with a subway once not knowing how to get out of there. but the magical bus 200 that brings you literally anywhere you need to be in Porto from the very center to the furtherest ocean coast was found there, too.Transportation is in general very convenient and straightforward, and the people are extremely helpful.
  • Take a walk from Dom Luís I Bridge in the direction to the ocean during dusk. It’s very beautiful to look behind at the city hills as the lights start to go on. The walk also opens up daily routine of the inhabitants as you get away from the center: the houses are right in front of the sidewalk and are a bit lower so you can even look in the windows (sorry, people of Porto, I didn’t mean to be creepy!). I spotted a cool gin bar on the way, too – inside Gull restaurant.
  • Talking about that famous bridge, crossing it on the highest level is a must-do as well! If you are not scared of heights! Because that really IS high. The view is fantastic! Those who don’t feel comfortable walking higher than birds fly, you can also cross it on a lower level. The other bank is no less cool than Ribeira! There are a lot of restaurants, bars and pop-up terraces, we couldn’t chose where to sit, so inviting they all looked! On that side you can also find The Yeatman hotel which has a Michelin stars gourmet restaurant with a view-deck.
  • Livraria Lello – an old bookshop that will take you to Hogwarts library. Just check out the pics from there to understand why one must visit it! There is always a line to enter and a line to buy tickets, but don’t let this scare you away, they move very fast, altogether it took us no more than 10 minutes to get in. And it’s worth it! The cool thing is that a ticket is actually a voucher that you can use when purchasing a book, so you don’t really pay for the entrance, because you for sure will want to buy something inside! The selection of books in various languages (besides Portuguese, mostly English and Spanish) is very impressive, and the prices are more than decent. There are quite a lot of tourists inside, that can get annoying, so try to choose some less popular times to really enjoy it.
  • Bolhão market. People write a lot about it being a must-see, but honestly if you have ever been to any nice big market with fresh fruits and handmade crafts – it’s not gonna impress you much more. The food people were eating looked delicious, but besides that I am only mentioning it here because of the street next to it – Rua de Santa Catarina. There you find all the mass-market shopping as well as some local brands, and Portugal is very good for shopping! On top of great clothes brands presence, you can bring beautiful dishes and house design items, nice handmade jewelry, soaps and famous sardines from there. And of course pastel de nata! Last year we explored all pastel de natas one can possibly eat in Portugal, and I particularly like the one at Fábrica de Nata. You can find it on that street and bring few packs home. Some more unique shopping can be found at Bombarda commercial center and and places like workshop pop up. Just look inside the smallest stores!
  • Museums: I don’t attempt to visit all museums of the city when travel somewhere. I mean, Picasso in Barcelona and Van Gogh in Amsterdam are must-do’s, of course, but I am more of a walk-all-streets-possible kind of tourist. For whatever the reason, I had Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis pinned on my map, so we went there. The description of an interesting collection in a beautiful palace is ehmm.. quite overrated. It’s a very old-school soviet-like museum like those local lore ones where they force you to go in middle school. We were quite disappointed, only a beautiful garden inside made it a but more worthy.  Another day I needed to hide from rain and went inside Igreja da Misericórdia not having any idea what it is. Turned out to be very beautiful inside, with an informative collection on Porto’s history and development of medicine and human care services. Really enjoyed it! And the 2.50 euros entrance fee for students in any museum is very fair I think! Especially after Vienna, where you can easily pay 13 euros to see one small exhibition.

    To wrap it up, some more gastronomy advice is always good! A sandeira was a place with awesome huge and delicious sandwiches for 4 euros. Flor dos Congregados is a very cozy romantic place. DOP can be added to the list of fancy gourmet restaurants. Ostras&Coisas will make happy any seafood lover! Frankie serves the biggest and coolest hotdogs I’ve ever seen, and it’s also very cheap and cool there. Vício do Café serves delicious coffee and also cheaper snacks, but toasts I ate there were soooo full of cheese! We couldn’t visit all the places I marked because a lot were closed due to Easter holidays, the same story as last year. My list also included Pedro Lemos, Terraplana, Museu d’avo, Aduela and Touriga (last three a more of bars). The Royal Cocktail Club showed a different approach to cocktails: controversial but interesting; Era uma Vez em Paris is a 50s bar which is said to have cool music, but when we stopped by it was still empty; espresso martini was perfect, though!

    Porto definitely got its special place in my heart, so does whole Portugal already have. People there are very nice, everything functions, sorry, much better than in neighboring Spain and France, I am not even mentioning English proficiency. Those amazing views, tasty food, sunshine and TILES! Hope to be back soon!


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Pasta, Wine & Snowboards

Снимок экрана 2018-03-22 в 18.27.38This is the last tribute to the mountains this season, and I really hope spring must be somewhere very close to us on its way!

Our ultimate skiing-snowboarding tour took us to Madonna di Campiglio, Italy. I have been there before, so just click the link for my first impressions. This year I got convinced that the slopes are one of the best. Very long, wide and with quit stable and steep incline, they would be perfect for the beginners, as well as they remain enjoyable for the advanced riders. There is always some extreme to be found, if one is looking for it, too. The weather was extremely cold for Italy when we arrived, with the lowest of -20, but thanks to large amounts of snow precipitation, there was no ice on the slopes at all. Great powder and even low temperatures didn’t ruin the experience, as most of the funiculars are either closed cabins or modern heated chairlifts. We traveled on skis to the regions of Pinzolo and Marilleva. Definitely take a lift to Doss del Sabion for the best view ever!

Regarding to the town, I expected a little more. In Italy, I am always sure to see greatest shopping and dozens of cozy trattorias with delicious food. In Madonna, it was good, but not the broadest variety of restaurants and shops. We were really happy to have booked a full board hotel, since it seemed we would struggle with finding a place for dinner for a big crowd each time. Shopping was very limited, too. It didn’t matter since we came there to ride and I was happy to ride whole days long (as the 12 o’clock skipass isn’t really a thing there), but if you don’t rush to the slope every morning and would like to have more entertainment in town – choose some place like Cortina d’Ampezzo or Selva di Val Gardena.
Some food up on the mountain was delicious, though. I would highly recommend Chalet Fiat: we remembered this place since 2 years, after they were cooling wine down throwing bottles outside in the snow 🙂 Reservation few days in advance is highly recommended! But my way of coming saying I will take the next free table and am willing to wait 40 minutes at the bar worked, too. Restaurants are never booked put to its real capacity since it’s impossible to predict how long people are gonna spend there, so the reservation time slots are always longer than the real time of tables being occupied (unless a reservation specifies a very exact slot), so this way very often works in fancy-always-booked-out places; the hosts would be happy to have extra orders in the time left before the next reservation, just ask!
In town, there are two places which we also marked two years ago and enjoyed again: Belvedere and Antico Focolare. Open for lunch as well as for dinner, it’s a pure pleasure to eat the best Carbonara at Belvedere or truffle ravioli and risotto from A.F. coming down to town straight after an intense day on the slopes!

I am more than ready to welcome spring now, it’s taking too long this year, so we may probably hope for a very hot and dry summer. But the snowboarding season’18 was awesome: Austrian Lech, Italian Madonna di Campiglio and even Russian Sochi – what a great combination! See you next year on the slopes!


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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.


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Georgia

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetThrowback to hot sunny Georgia!

We made a trip with my best friend in September, which was my heaven since I love the heat, but a hell for pale Polina. So, if you choose to go during the hot season, be ready for it to be very hot, at least in Tbilisi.

I will spread this post in three parts, starting with the capital.

1. Tbilisi Processed with VSCO with m3 presetWant to mention from the very beginning, it will be more about looking at the pics than about my poor narrative, since it’s been a while and I just have a mixture of very bright, tasty and windy memories on my mind.

The city is a large mirror of the places that were really nice during the Soviet Union times. It still looks very Soviet, with the way people are dressed, “plombir” ice cream cones, plastic tables outside, flea markets with very strange things. I can’t really call Tbilisi beautiful. It’s different, it has something hidden beyond all those huge concrete walls. But it’s still very dusty, and when the weather is windy those dust storms actually hurt the skin. White shoes which I of course had on are no option either. And just in general, there is that slight feeling of still being in the Soviet 80s everywhere. But everything is quite cheap, even compared to rubles, not even mentioning EUR/USD. The time we went to a super expensive restaurant on top of Biltmore Hotel and had a proper dinner with wine, it was a price of a regular simple meal I am used to – that was, of course, an awesome surprise. Especially considering how delicious the food is! I have been a big admirer of Georgian cuisine since years, but no fancy Georgian restaurant compares to grandma’s khinkali freshly made in the middle of Caucus mountains away from civilization.

Tbilisi opened up some awesome places for us, too. But I had to ask my Georgian friends for recommendations, there is not much you can find on the web. So, sharing the knowledge:

  • Biltmore Hotel rooftop restaurant: for the view. The food is typical European which you can eat anywhere, pasta is far not as good as the original. Some local meats were good, though, as well as the wine list. But the view!!! It’s very empty, I guess it’s just too expensive compared to everything else in the region. The first date there could be a bit awkward in that silence with irrationally high number of staff watching you. But the view!
  • Prospero’s Books: a very cute hidden garden in the city center. Not much of food choice and self service, but it’s very cozy and quiet.
  • Erekle II street in the Old town has a lot of cafes with local food as well as international, nice breakfast choices, cocktails, life music, wine tasting.
  • Linville, not far away from the pedestrian area mentioned above and also close to few cool boutiques with Georgian designer items, is also very hidden but offers super delicious food! The best khachapuri I had there! And you feel like you are sitting in your grandma’s living room, so authentic is the design.
  • Davit Aghmashenebeli street is very nice in the evening. Lights, music, dressed up people. It’s quite touristy and a bit overpriced, there were also tricky situations when we were told a restaurant doesn’t have a menu or that there are some homemade specialities offered tonight, but you can’t know all prices in advance. Nothing ever ended with a disaster and a check impossible to pay, but still be careful and don’t let charming hospitality of the Georgian people trick you, they are doing business, at the end of the day.
  • Funicular in the old town brings one to the top with a picturesque view, and a cafe there had awesome bakery! Try the donuts and black coffee 😉
  • Carpe diem and Lolita were also very nice cafes. We didn’t hit Moulin and Amodi, they were a bit tricky to find and we gave up, but I heard they are worth searching for! And we got more rooftops and hotel lounges recommendations: Radisson, Ghumeli inside Iota hotel, Rooms hotel, 142 steps cafe for another view. They love the views there! I have noticed that when the city is not necessarily beautiful, it always has a lot of rooftops accessible. Makes sense to me! Especially when it is surrounded by beautiful landscapes. 

2. Fabrika Processed with VSCO with m3 presetThis place is so awesome, that it deserves its own chapter. When Polina told me that we are going to Tbilisi, my reaction immediately was that we MUST book our stay in Fabrika. I had heard about the place before from pretty much everyone who had been to Tbilisi. “Fabrika” stands for “factory” in Russian, because this is indeed an old factory that was rebuilt in hotel, creative area with shops, popups, cafes and bars. At night it turns into a party place which hosts many DJs and events like Boiler Room. Just everything about it is cool: expats and the coolest local people, the music, we were brought to an after party from there by some guys we started a conversation with when I was staring at their sandwich and they gave me a bite. And the sandwiches! Try the wine steak one! I can’t describe the atmosphere very well there since I am just bad at writing, bit it’s somewhat a mixture of meeting your friends at your secret place to sit on the corner couch and talk about things nobody besides you understands and coming to a fancy bar dressed up to take a whole bottle of wine there, for it to be followed by another bottle. The working spaces there seemed very cool, too. I wish we had something like that there, I’d host all ACUNS meetings, birthdays, first dates and drinking nights there!

 

In general, I liked the city; any city which has awesome food can’t be a disappointment to me. But I’d definitely advise to travel around the country and go to the mountains!

3. KazbegiIMG_7099When deciding how to get to the mountains, we went old-school and booked a bus-trip. You can drive there, too, but to get to the last destinations there is a jeep needed anyways, a proper hardcore jeep and such driving skills that made me fasten my seatbelt, but when the driver said I didn’t need to, I explained that otherwise I am gonna fall out of the window. A bus trip from Tbilisi shall be something around 50-60 lari with jeeps included, be careful when booking. They stop at many beautiful destinations that a regular driver might not know and pass by, so it’s actually one of few times when I don’t mind taking a guided tour. But with headphones on, not to listen to the guide and to properly read it all up myself, of course. I was also a bit surprised by how bad people speak Russian there. After Azerbaijan I was sure more people would address me in Russian, but the young generation speaks English only, with very few exceptions.

The mountains are just gorgeous. I have been to the Alps so many times that it’s hard to impress me, but seeing such nature in summer is also very impressive. Especially the mountain rivers and lakes took my breath away.

 

As Polina said, our life is currently a “wine tasting with 10 years experience”. Georgia WAs definitely a perfect destination for us!


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Baku

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetI hate writing about summer travels. There is always just so sooo much I wanna share ad hoc, but since the next trip is always to come super shortly, I never manage to catch up. Ending up with a disaster of countless pictures and chaotic memories, I postpone again, usually finally trying to recover at least something already around Christmas holidays. So much gets lost and never shared that way 😦

Time to try my best. It’s easy to start with this post about Baku, because I spent only one day there. When I was planning my trip to Georgia, not even knowing where my starting point would be, but willing to visit Togliatti after, it was clear I’d have multiple connections throughout my route. Ahh I don’t even wanna recall how many troubles I as usual had with those, after one flight of my endless chain got cancelled. When I was checking for alternatives and saw a long layover in Baku, I didn’t hesitate a moment.
      As I was approaching the capital, I had a feeling that I had already been there, because I have so many acquaintances from Baku that all seem to love their city and often tell something about it. However, the desert around surprised me a bit; I didn’t realize how much south I already was.
     The airport is already gorgeous. I haven’t seen many of those «miracle rich oasis cities in the middle of a desert» in my life, so it was indeed wonderful. I was aware that taxi drivers are tricky and knew in advance the price to agree on. They started with 70 manat but I bargained down to 25, which was the absolute maximum, according to my local friends. On the way back from the city center I myself offered 15, which was obviously much more, than the driver parked in front of a luxury hotel expected. So, be creative. The ride itself was a lot of fun, too. If you are familiar with the culture and music a bit, you know what I mean. Driving across a desert suburb with extremely entertaining video clips and a fun driver was a good start to my cultural experience. The guy cared so much about me getting where I need to and being safe and finding my way around, that was adorable. I must be honest, being a blonde drags attention to you. But nothing extreme. Everyone is just interested, wants to be helpful and nice. I never felt uncomfortable, but you just have to understand local men’s way of approaching women and not get offended, but smile and accept compliments. I tried to dress appropriately, too, unlike the tame when I landed in Morocco alone in the middle of the might wearing shorts. I put on a long skirt and had a silk cloak, but tried to keep it pretty, since I knew the locals are always very nicely dressed when they leave houses. My expectations were correct, people were quite overdressed for a hot midday, but there were also women in more open clothes, so I’d say don’t freak out with your outfit, chill, but if you are a very European type and don’t wanna drag too much attention, avoid extreme minis.
     Drawing conclusions about the cultural side, I must not skip the main part of any culture for me – the food. Ah, that food! I knew very well that Azeri people have feasts 24/7 and looove food and large get-together dinners, I had also tried the original dolma and qutabs from my friend Jamila, so I was very excited to get a meal. Oh my god, even some flat breads they were baking on the street as a fast food smelled better than my whole luxury dinner in Moscow the night before! I didn’t have much time and wanted to see the city, so I didn’t devote time to going to a restaurant. Therefore, no special recommendations this time. But a 2-weeks gastro-trip to Baku and eating everything I can see at Jamila’s wedding are definitely on my bucket list! This was just the intro to Baku for me, so I stopped at a small cozy cafe in the old town area and ordered eggplants stuffed with cheese and chestnuts and some local but dry wine (it exists; for instance, in neighboring Georgia I was really missing dry wines). No doubt, Azerbaijan has the best eggplants in the world!
     My tour across the city was very rich in emotions, too. I loved the weather, it was very hot but windy. I can see it getting quite nasty in winter, though. But my day there was just perfect. I understand why the locals enjoy long walks along the promenade. It’s something I always miss in Russia – nobody really goes on a walk together. Everyone is always in a rush, running like dung-beetles, and well, it’s too dirty and dusty everywhere to enjoy walking. How a city in the middle of a desert is clean, but all Russian towns are covered in mud, is still a big question for me. Baku is really neat. Marble tiles, wrought iron gratings with roses, old light stone houses and hilly narrow streets building up a labyrinth of the old town are endless perfect settings for photo-shootings. The markets are interesting, too. It’s not just souvenirs or something like stone replicas of monuments like the ones they cell in Egypt or Mexico (well, everywhere), there is really cool beautiful stuff to be found there. I wish I could have brought a carpet or a lamp! People are very friendly and not really annoying, unlike all the markets I remember. But I must remind you, that I am a Russian-speaker, so are most of Azeris, in Baku at least. So I might have a totally different side of the story from tourists who don’t speak Russian. One man had a conversation with me in good English (probably the only one who couldn’t smell from 200m that a Russian is approaching), but I am not sure how well the rest of the population speaks English.
     Just about three hours of walking was quite enough for me to see everything I wanted. My route was quite random, but I knew that the Old City and the promenade are where I have to go. I started from the President Park with the view on skyscrapers, then entered the Old Town where I wandered for very long exploring every corner, then a beautiful walk along the promenade with astonishing sea views and just very nice atmosphere of by-passers holding hands and smiling at me brought me to Hilton Baku and the House of Government – two interesting pieces of architecture. I assume there is much more to see in the city, but I was very satisfied with what I managed to cover on such short time. The Old Town is tiny, about the size of the first district of Vienna, but it’s so beautiful that I could spend a week just there. Eating!
     Baku is definitely a must-see, so are their egg-plants a must-eat!


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Moscow

I found it a bit bizarre that I visit Moscow quite regularly, but there hasn’t been a single note named like this yet.

As always, I don’t find a way for my posts to follow my location changes. I just came back from my kinda hop-on hop-off trip around Caucasus and now am enjoying “babye leto” (Russian term for Indian summer) riding a bike and playing tennis in my hometown. But there is so much more to tell about!

A big must-eat-and-drink list from Barcelona will happen one day for sure (so will the ones from Hong Kong and Havana…)

After leaving Spain I had a spontaneous 10-days stop in Vienna. It wasn’t in my vacation schedule but turned out to be awesome with all the barbecues and family/friends get-togethers one following another. I liked being around Vienna (we were sometimes going to Klosterneuburg, called “close to Neuburg” by out Spanish friend) in August and will definitely plan to stay for some summer months next year.

Then, I left for my traditional annual trip to Moscow. I fly there every August and usually weather treats me with some tornados and flying cows passing by as soon as I land. But this year I have been so extremely lucky with the weather wherever I go that even in Moscow it was bit less freezing than I feared. Allowed to walk a lot, spend quality time with my sister and her fiancé, meet with my childhood friends and even catch up with the Viennese fellows who were also enjoying rare but pleasant warmth of the capital.

 

Here are some places I tried this time that are worth attention, in my opinion. I don’t go for the most luxury places which Moscow is famous for and which most of the foreigners visiting the city would prefer to try (totally understandable, Moscow knows luxury!). Those are more of what I see as better taste, something not very often observed in Russia. For the locals, they will probably be the most well-known and hyped spots which won’t interest them anymore either. But as a guest, I enjoyed stopping by:

  • Glenuill: a small place with tables placed extremely close to each other, quite intimate atmosphere in general and always smiling handsome waiters that treated us with a cake after our meal. I am not sure what made me like the place: that honey cake or crab pasta I had eaten before it. I am a big fan of crab meat but, unfortunately, it’s not served anywhere you go in the area where I live. Will be more commonly seen in menus in Russia. Anyways, I liked the little restaurant where I went straight from the airport. A nice place for dates. I had a date with my Jane there, and it was absolutely romantic!
  • Рыбы Нет (Ryby Net – “there is no fish”): a meat restaurant which I had already tried a year ago. It’s a typical trying-to-be-one-of-a-kind place of the big city centre, but I like it. Indeed good meat, and high patency ensures always fresh products. I ate a beef tartar there even though I usually don’t risk eating raw meat in those countries where I am not 100% sure about the quality standards. And the location is perfect for tourists, of course.
  • Итальянец (“the Italian”): an Italian restaurant, what a surprise! Famous for its Italian chef it has very well-organized menu and an option to vary any kind of pasta with any kind of sauce, etc. from the whole menu. On the side, there is another place from the same owner(s), a bit less posh but offering no less delicious range of Italian specialties. And you can chose from both menus in whatever the restaurant you picked a table!
  • Молоко (Moloko – “milk”): again, in the very center of the melting pot. But being on the street full of gastronomical wonders, it was the only one where nice staff found a table for us on a Friday evening with no reservation. Be ready that if you ask “Sorry, is there a free table” in Moscow, you may get an answer “How the hell do I know, go inside and have a look” from a waiter. It’s tough mother-Russia, baby! So, Moloko was the only one that agreed to have us, and tven though we were only drinking there, I could see that it’s a place that I call “good one”. The concept was for sure prepared by the professionals so was the cocktails menu. Very close to classic American bars’ standards but with some innovative approach. I ordered a rum-based cocktail with creamy caramel texture and lemongrass in it (since la Petite of Florence lemongrass in drinks is like crab meat in food for me) and was extremely satisfied. Watching the barkeepers was also a pleasure, and you know, I am a big fan of their craft!
  • Upside down cake is a place around the corner, where we tried to sit down for some sweets first. Their range of desserts seemed very attractive, and I had seen the place on Instagram a few times before. But they offer no alcohol at all. To me a cocktail is a perfect dessert, so I don’t really understand how one can position themselves as a desserts place not offering the main after-meal/instead of meal experience.
  • Americano: this is where desserts looked amazing! Can’t judge much as I was too full to eat there, but I loved their location and the atmosphere inside. Perfect for a quiet chat that shouldn’t be overheard or for loosing oneself to some reading or browsing.
  • I like W (W stands for Wine <3): if I had understood it correctly, it’s a chain for those who not only like wine but also like beer, etc. We like wine and food! And both were very good there! I ordered roastbeef salad, bruschettas and creamy sauce pasta with duck and was very satisfied. The place is a bit louder and might require a reservation on busy evenings, but it will be a cool location for a big company pregame or celebrating some event, too! The only thing that I didn’t like was that when we finished our meal and didn’t want more wine at that moment when we were just talking, the waiter kept coming up asking when we will order more drinks and ended up asking if he can bring us the bill when we repeated that we were good for the moment. But, again, that kicking out to seat new customers is common, so don’t get pissed at one particular place, but blame the service culture in general.

I must say I really enjoyed this time in Moscow. Maybe it’s the weather, as I am very climate-dependent. Maybe it’s the fact that all worked out so well with no plan and I got to see so many people. And I admit, I see the progress in the city, even in comparison with last year’s visit. You can pay with credit cards everywhere now; the city sites became brighter and cleaner. Let’s see what happens in the next years.