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Winter is Coming from St. P.

Being unable to come up with any decent title for this post because I already used up all possible ones for my countless posts under the tag, let it be a reminder for me that this winter Vienna got the first snow exactly when I landed from Saint Petersburg. And then I was 4 hours late for work after the train stopped. Because Austria just can’t deal with 3 snowflakes. Indeed, why would a country with Alps know what snow is?

Yup, surprise! I suddenly booked the next ticket available for Saint Petersburg, where I didn’t go since the summer 2016. Why that? Oh, there are a few reasons which are quite personal and are not all mine. Let’s just say I urgently needed to see my friends. Processed with VSCO with a6 presetLast time we all caught up was at Dasha’s wedding, and back then I was wondering when we will have a chance to reunite all together. My guess was that it can only happen at the funeral of one of us, since there are no more weddings on the horizon. Well well, I was almost about to be right.

Anyways, its good to see my beloved city again, after 2,5 years. Honestly, I was waiting to go there together with Dani and open up this chapter of my life for him. But with our completely different working schedules and Russian visa application procedure, it is impossible to go for 2 days together. May all visa centrums of this world burn in hell. So, for now it was just me, hi.

It was more about being with friends rather than partying this time. Also, partying is not very easy if the wind is so cold that your stomach gets frozen. Nevertheless, few times we warmed it up with some strong shots at iconic bars of St P, one of a kind which don’t compare to anything in Moscow or even somewhere in Zagreb. Special thanks to Elisabeth for creating a program for us on such a short notice. She is the real soul of Saint Petersburg for me since the day I met her, on the first week of studies at SPBSU, when she was snoring during class where everyone was shivering in horror from the professor.

В Питере – пить!

I can hardly express how much I love Saint Petersburg. Its vibe is impossible to explain, you can only feel it. And I feel it in all my buddies who live there, in every building, weird hipster exhibition/bar/popup store. All the bars where I used to go closed down or completely changed (as it happens every time I come to the city), so I trusted bar soul Elisabeth, and the choice was awesome! Just one night out and so many emotions, songs and hugs! Угрюмочная was super cool, with verysad barkeepers coming up with a customized drink for you based on how sad you claim you are. So simple and nevertheless so cool as a concept! There is even a vest to cry into hanging on the wall.

Orthodox didn’t impress me that much. Had to wait 40 minutes for a gin tonic after I needed to explain to the bar chef how to make one. And gosh, what is this name? Bar 8, which didn’t even bother to get a website, thats how spb-classy it is, was the best! I never really partied in that part of the city in a conscious condition, so that was something completely new for me, and the spirit on Petrogradskaya side of the city indeed differs from the center I was used to. But the best part if shawarma at 2 a.m.! Ah, that Saint Petersburg shawarma! But I admit, this time it crossed all borders of shawarma amazingness I have ever reached before: I ate the BEST one in my entire life. No kidding! Will share this pearl with the world: Shawarma on Kronverkskiy prospect 45.

Apart from shawarma, which remains the best part of my nutrition during those 43 hours in Saint P, we were eating only Asian fusions. I really lack those in Europe! Russian market of Asian food is something incredible, even though in reality it’s not proper authentic Asian, but some crazy hipster ideas a-la grilled cheese maki on a foie gras paste. Made in China was the coziest place, the best for companies on a weekend evening, when you still wanna hear each other and are not ready to dive into darkness, yet. Subzero is maybe too minimalistic, bit the short menu was great. Tiger Lily is a cool concept of a hidden-not-hidden-but-still-hidden place; music was exactly a playlist of  the Viennese X club, the entire concept was something of a kind, too. New York inhabitants must get a lot of that, but for Russia it’s still relatively new and therefore cool. The food was delicious and the prices were surprisingly low for such a hype place. I’d recommend to go in the evening and feel their club atmosphere, somehow it seemed cooler than just during the cafe-hours.

Saint Petersburg. Who would think that I’d come so spontaneously just for 43 hours! Let’s see what the next time we see each other is gonna be…

 


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#Lignano

Снимок экрана 2018-11-13 в 22.14.26Italy! I get so many emotions when think about this country. I’ve been there definitely more than 50 times and it simply doesn’t stop being exciting. My favorite city in Italy where I lived the longest is Florence. I also have a hashtag for Milan, where I lived during my Bocconi program. Now I think it’s the time to create a new hashtag for the place that is becoming our usual summer destination, and will remain one for the years to come – Lignano.

I went to Lignano already 4 times this summer, whereas wrote only about the first trip. Catching up a bit, now after my last visit last week I can claim I love it during every season! May-June is already warm but the official season isn’t open until the end of June, so the town is waking up, beaches are being set up, restaurants wake up after winter break (which 99% of them have); there are almost no visitors yet, just some Austians who also want to get the first warm sunrays of the year.

The summer is quite crazy there. Crowds of people. parties every night and long queues to get into restaurants last until the end of September. On the last weekend of September restaurants close down and the town changes so much that it’s hard to recognize. Completely empty streets, one-two cars passing by during the day, yet everything neat and clean but quiet and empty – that’s quite an utopistic view. Some can feel a bit freaky walking the streets where you might not meet one person, but we loved it. The town is all yours! You can shamelessly look into the gardens. No idea how the municipality fights marauders because I didn’t see any police patrols, but it seemed very safe and we never heard of any incidents during winter time from the locals. The only problem can be finding a place to go to dinner, since there are just a few functioning. But we solved it by cooking ourselves: seafood is still the freshest! Out of the season it’s better to stay in Sabbiadoro though; Pineta is indeed abandoned. In November you can still sit outside and sip your Aperol watching the real locals walking the main pedestrian street – a luxury not to be found anywhere in Italy during summer!

I wrote a lot about food in Lignano and around; you can find some recommendations under the newly created hashtag. The most delicious place for me is still Sandrocchia; and Agosti has an awesome location and great seafood. Lobster pasta remains my dish-to-eat-as-many-times-as-possible-when-in-Lignano, and those two places make the best one!

Another awesome thing about Lignano is that you can travel to so many places from there, from Slovenia, Croatia and Austria 1 hour away by car, to traditional Italian jewels like Verona, Trieste and of course – Venice.

I never thought I would fall in love with Venice when visited it as a child and then came back few times as a tourist level “buy a carnival mask” with friends during our Italian holidays. We were always in such a rush because it takes quite long to reach San Marco from the train station or car parking lot. And I had a feeling showing people San Marco is an absolute must, so we never really had the time to explore Venice out of that Santa Lucia – San Marco route that is marked on the houses with arrows. Now Venice is a place where I drive from Lignano for lunch, where I walk slow, where I know how to take Vaporetto and how to use those confusing parking garages. I take a direction opposite from the marked route, find myself at amazing hidden inner yards with dead ends into water. And I simply love going there.

I really want to go to Burano island, but last week Venice was flooded and direct transportation line there was closed. A goal for the next visit – lunch on Burano!

Small towns of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Guilia are really undervalued. Cervignano and Pordenone taught us more about everyday life of Italians from non-touristic cities, and it’s so different from those in Rome or Milan! This is how long it takes to really know the country – years traveling between all kinds of daily routines.

I am glad this chapter of Italian days in my life has started. Lignano, see you soon!


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Korea, part II: Seoul Neighborhoods

Yongsan DistrictThis is the second part of my story about Korea. In the first post, I talked about the feelings and emotions this incredible country charged me with. I expect this post to come out more down to Earth (I never draft and brainstorm a post from 0 right away, so at the beginning I have no idea what it’s gonna end like), with concrete routes and things to see. I decided to try to divide locations by districts and places of interest found closest to each other, rather than by usual themes, i.e. “shopping”, “food”, etc., because Seoul is huge and that wold just be a mess.

Let’s begin with the tourist sightseeing. I am not a fan of guided tours, books, hop-on-hop-off buses and all that stuff, preferring to feel and understand the city through my own eyes by walking it on foot, touching it and tasting it everywhere I can, not just on its “best and most interesting” route. But I admit that coming somewhere and completely neglecting popular tourist locations is narrow minded, especially in such ancient country with a rich uneasy historical path as Korea, one has to know where it all started. And maybe even take an audioguide once.

Gyeongbokgung palace is the largest and the best known traditional Korean palace constructed in 1395. It provides the best understanding of what Korean Imperors must have lived like, how traditional architecture is implemented in nature (the palace is surrounded by a huge beautiful park) and how Koreans respect their traditions and take care of historical inheritance. There is a lifehack how to get into any palace for free: come in traditional Korean costume. You can rent those around palaces for a very low rate. It’s the most touristy thing I have done since my pictures holding the Great Sphinx of Giza in 2003, but when else would I get a chance to feel what wearing this is like! Koreans still wear traditional clothes for many occasions, and you even see people dressed traditionally walking on the streets, so it’s like a dirndl in Austria, and wearing it is not like putting a Halloween costume on. Of course it’s absurd with my physical appearance, but it was still cool!

There is a rich infrastructure around the Palace, but also a lot of tourists. If you walk up the hill to Bukchon Village, you will see a different Seoul. The village is built up from tiny houses in traditional Korean style that bunch up roof to roof as if they were leaning on each other (but nothing in Korean just leans on anything unless it’s supposed to, believe me); there are signs everywhere asking visitors ti be quiet as there are native people of Seoul living in those houses. The doors are often open, so you can have a sneak peek on their everyday life. It’s a unique window to a regular Korean household routine that brings more than any guided tour.

The best view you can find is from Gahoe-dong Alley, it uncovers a large part of Seoul from the hill and faces the Seoul Tower – an amazing contrast to see skyscrapers in between those traditional upturned rooftops. If you leave the inhabitants to quietly live their hasteless but organized lives and go back to the bigger prospects: there are a lot of amazing cafes and shops along Samcheong-ro, up to Bukchon-gil streets. Traditional Korean desserts mixed with western style steakhouses; jewelry shops next to shoes markets. While walking back down back to the city, you will come across a market on Yulgok-ro 3-gil (open May-October, I think). Sogno jewelry was a shop that stayed in my mind with its flawless style. There is an entire district – Jongno Jewelry Town, devoted to bijouterie.

As you approach city center, visit an art street Insa-dong, where you also fins yourself in a creative unique world of Korean innovative minds. The time to try amazing Korean street food has come, too! But later about that, now we stick to sightseeing!

Deoksugung is another palace, a bit smaller, but with some spectacular views of modern buildings behind ancient traditional constructions. It’s crazy to realize that they stand next to each other despite 600 years difference. Usually, to get to a historical site this old, you have to leave the city center. Rarely have I seen such a harmony stretched throughout centuries. All the decorations are in such good state that I started questioning if they get renovated. It would be such a taboo to paint over something this ancient in Europe, where most of artifacts remain untouched and covered up in museums. Maybe restoring a place to its unique appearance and maintaining the spirit of the times is not that much of a crime.

Changdeokgung Palace is said to be the most beautiful out of Five Palaces of Seoul. I liked it the most because there were the least people and it was very welcoming, with traditional music being performed live, all doors being open for tourists – you can literally have a look inside each room. Korean people are very proud of their history and traditions, they all seem to know a lot about their heritage, and will with pleasure share with you (if you find any common language that you both speak, of course). We were just so lucky to be guided by our Korean friend, Hyunhee. With a local, Korea is another level of cultural experience. And she knows how to use buses. 

A break from sightseeing? We actually split the program above into 2 days, mixing it with some shopping, art, cafes and interrupting it with crazy Seoul nightlife on the way (that’s why there are no pictures from Changdeokgung Palace, you can guess it was in the morning of the day 2 and we were more craving for water than pics), because three huge palaces with parks around is too much for one day. Be prepared to walk a lot!

Another very cultural Korean thing that can definitely be accounted for sightseeing as well: food markets. There are a lot of them in Seoul. I don’t know if there is a huge difference, wouldn’t suppose so. Cooking on open fire and serving it right there on low benches and barrels is such a common thing, you see it everywhere from an actual market to the busiest shopping streets of Myeongdong. We went to Gwangjang Market. There are both food and clothes markets, don’t get confused. You find food pavilions in front of Jongno 5 Ga bus stop.

It smells like food there. A lot. So if you don’t happen to enjoy fish and fried fats smells, it might not be an entertainment for you. For us, it was extremely interesting to not only try the foods ourselves, but to observe regular Korean people socializing, having soju at lunch time, playing table games and just being natural (because they tend to get shy in front of foreigners). Keep in mind that it’s not a place designed for tourist. You don’t fins English menus anywhere, but there you are not likely to get any depictions of food choices. Either pregoogle what you would like to try or point fingers at the alien thing that appears the most to you. Luckily, we have Hyunhee! She ordered few variations of raw beef with spices, sesame oil, vegetables and whatever else for us to try. And rice wine! It’s quite weird for me, nothing like wine. I like soju more,  but since everyone else falls under the table after 2 shots of it, I felt like 1 pm would be too early for having a bottle by myself and went for rice wine, too. Markets are the place where you can try famous still-alive octopus and many other cool things, but mostly it’s another way to get closer with the locals. 

From Gwangjang Market, it’s not far to walk to another must-see – Dongaemun Design Plaza. That’s a completely different Seoul, the one you see in futuristic movies shot there. It was design by Zaha Hadid, this already tells everything. The best time to go is at dusk, when it gets lit up. I am a big fan of futuristic architecture, asymmetrical figures and a game of lights, so every building in that area excited me.

As it gets later and closer to dinner time, time to go to Myeongdong – a foodie district that comes to life in the evening. It reminded me of Hong Kong: neon signs, rushing people, everything open all night long, smells of food everywhere, skyscrapers coming together above your head so that you barely see the sky. There are a lot of amazing food spots in Myeongdong, but a typical Korean problem: names and addresses only in Korean. I was searching on Instagram and have them marked, but can’t really share here. Ask me on Instagram and I’ll send you awesome locations! Street food is always an option, too!

In Myeongdong, you can go shopping even after late dinner. That’s a cosmetics heaven with mask shops on each corner, as well as some cool fashion brands are found there. Foreigners tend to rush for every funny package they see, you can go crazy and pay a fortune for overweight like that. Better read some beauty blogs before you shop cosmetics in Korea, one needs a trial there. My personal favourites are Missha, It’s skin store and an unknown brand named Real Barrier that Hyunhee discovered. I have been using it since 2 months and absolutely love the result!

Stylenanda is a big deal not only in Korea, but all over the world. Don’t miss the chance to check her pink hotel out! I bought her lipstick being quite skeptical because the brand is overly advertised and famous, but guys, this lipstick just stays forever and doesn’t leave any trace even on wine glasses!

There is another Stylenanda flagship store at Hongdae – the district we found the best for shopping. Shifting away from mass market to narrower niches and tiny private boutiques that share some unique ideas while walking chaotic streets of Hongdae. Grab store, Crystal Ship and many more hidden in Wausan-ro streets with names only in Korean are a source of standout fashion. I mentioned in my first post about Korea that I love how they sell. If you visit Hongdae shopping streets, you’ll know what I mean.

The district is attractive for a foodie, too. Especially if you gad enough of Korean food experience for now and want something international. Hongdae is full of restaurants and pubs of cuisines and styles from all over the world. Korean food is so delicious that I didn’t even want to go for anything else, but the thing is the products: they are so fresh and flavorful, that anything cooked out of them comes out tasty and rich. As brunch freaks, me and Anfisa needed to try a Korean-made western-style brunch. We found such at Grain.

Finally coming to my favorite topic, brunching, we have to leave for Itaewon. The loudest and craziest district of Seoul by nighttime, next morning after a party it offers those who are still around and alive few quite cool brunch opportunities. Bimbom served us brunch that blew our spoiled with poached eggs and fluffy french toasts minds. It was three-storied tray of foodNo idea how Anfisa found it though, because, as most of places I found on Insta, it doesn’t show up on maps. If you find Bimbom, mind that the entire street is a European-style brunching area. I’d literally go into every place there if had more time in Seoul.

If you are struggling finding locations but craving for breakfast with eggs and toasts instead of kimchi and gimbap that the locals start their day with, there are chains around Seoul like Twosome place and Paris Baguette that serve sandwiches and pastries prepared in a usual for us way. However, the Korean way of interpreting desserts is outstanding. Pastel de nata Korean-style that I ate at Reverb beats classical Portuguese one 100%, just as well as Korean macarons give odds to Ladurée. I would name Avec El, Sobok and Remicone among the coolest I came across. This article also names some more cute cafes I didn’t reach; you need years in Seoul to properly explore it. Processed with VSCO with m5 preset If you want more cuteness overload, check out Line Friends Store (Itaewon or Gangnam): it features famous in Korea characters, Kakao friends, and makes all kinds of goods with them. A fun heaven not only for kids, but for adults as well! Across the Itaewon-ro street from it is a ramen place that only a local can show you: manya sandaime. It is a japanese original ramen that differs from Korean, where they use instant noodles. I am not a huge soup fan and found so many more delicious things in Korean cuisine than their ramen, so I’d go for a classical Japanese one – and this is the best one I’ve tried in my life (in which I, however, haven’t been to Japan yet).

Itaewon is an expat district, so it’s no surprise you see a lot of diversity in the streets, sometimes maybe even menus in English. There are some designer studios and department stores there, too; check out D&Department. If I could transport dishes and furniture in my suitcase, I’d have an entire house of Korean deco, it’s so amazing! Walking up that international street brings us to the next palace of design and art  – Leeum Museum. A perfect balance between classical and contemporary art, Leeum fascinates with its absence of angles and a perfect way to exhibit one nation’s history as well as an individual’s talent. I learnt a lot about Korean traditional paintings, manuscripts and perception of the Japanese invasion, as well as got acquainted to some modern Asian arts. The luxury neighborhood is worth walking around, too,

As the sun goes away, Itaewon lights go on. I already mentioned before that I have never seen anyone partying with so much enthusiasm as Koreans do. It’s impossible to describe, one has to experience that once in a lifetime. The music is quite commercial, Koreans love that 2008 MTV playlist a lot! But for us it’s a chance to go back in time and have real fun dancing to the old Rihanna after many years of going to techno parties. The coolest clubs for me were Fountain (very commercial but very spacious; there you can see how wealthy locals party, and they’ll invite you to join) Owl, Fug (both more trendy-teenage with some twist of hip hop from time to time; both had djs with amazing sets), Prost (the only club where they play amazing techno and electro).

…Expats, designer studios, brunch locations, bars and clubs all around – that’s Itaewon.

Having visited Seoul classics like the Five Palaces, old village, locals’ neighborhoods, experienced shopping and nightlife; enjoyed Korean traditional food as well as interpretations of western cuisines, it’s time to see the newest and the most famous in the world district of Seoul – Gangnam.

A business district with the wealthiest inhabitants, the highest shiniest skyscrapers, the widest prospects, the most luxurious shopping the the finest dining, Gangnam attracts people from all over the world. Many live there for work, many just seek the most comfortable neighborhood in Korea. Anyways, the streets are always crowded, restaurants and shops doors open, people are dressed up.

I had been craving for Shake Shack since 9 years and I ran there as soon as I learnt there is one in Korea, so I didn’t eat anywhere else in Gangnam, but I my friends tried Dosan Bunsik and loved it; it also exploded Instagram. I don’t want to give any specific recommendations in Gangnam simply because 1) it must be changing on a weekly basis 2) it’s huge 3) I didn’t have the time to properly explore it. So just walk those miles long straigh streets and seek for your own secret spot 😉

Shopping in Gangnam is amazing, too. It’s luxury, but there are also boutiques with affordable fashion of amazing quality and style. I was in such a rush to see everything I could that didn’t write down any names, and you will understand me once you step on those streets of Gangnam. An absolute must-see is tamburins store. This is what I call marketing that everyone must reach by 2050. It’s worth visiting just to see HOW things can be sold, but also to try their amazing concepts. I bought myself a perfume and am in love with it. Another cool concept store is Queenmama Market, there you find just anything you want, but in a unique Korean way. And, again, I LOVE how unobtrusively they sell! So, if you want to know, Gangnam-style from K-pop songs is a real story 😉

After a few very intense days around the most crowded central districts of Seoul, I could use some rest and chill. Therefore, it was perfect to move to Maksin’s who lives in Songdo business district. It’s a different kind of Korea, with career-oriented and mostly foreign people living there. Most of international organizations and companies headquarters operating in Korea are found in Songdo, a district created in an empty field just few years ago to host expats. It is still being constructed, so you can observe a wonderof skyscrapers growing up from a ground level from your window every day. Songdo is empty during working hours, I was literally the only person outside. I moved around with a bicycle and those routes through the Central Park and deers chilling on the grass there observing skyscrapers felt very utopistic. Processed with VSCO with m5 preset Songdo is very clean, empty and quiet, but there are a lot of restaurants. No surprise, with all those working people with little time to cook and probably a high desire to socialize being alone on a contract in an alien country. Most of the district inhabitants don’t speak Korean, but staff at supermarkets and cafes still didn’t bother much to learn English basics, so the fun game of gestures goes on here, too. I had more time to walk around and go through groceries (like if I understood what was laying on the shelves), visit flower shops, coffee places, kids’ playgrounds and parks and other places that make you a tiny bit more local. There are a lot of expats’ kids in Songdo, must be one hell of an experience to grow up like this, with its bright and dark sides. I personally would have loved to spend childhood in some alien to my culture country, pick up a tough language and just be a citizen of the world in the future.

Songdo actually belongs to another town (yet a part of Seoul agglomeration, you can get to both with one subway net) – Incheon. I went to the town, too. It’s a huge port and quite an industrial district, but it is still full of parks, hiking possibilities and shows how connected Koreans are to nature wherever and whenever. China Town of Incheon is the main attraction of the area. I went there on my last day in Korea, right before leaving for China, so getting loaded with some spirit from numerous Chinese shops, restaurants and tourist crowds (why do the Chinese go to China towns when they are abroad?!) was cool.

I learnt more about Korean cuisine while in Songdo, thanks to the Green Climate guys, colleagues of Maksin, who invited me to a real Korean barbecue. I would like to wrap this already enormously long post with the Must-Eats when in Korea:

  • Bibimbap: a traditional Korean dish prepared in many different ways, but always made out of rice with sauteed vegetables, beans, many greens and spices, beef and an egg (can be sunny side up, omelette or even raw). I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it really fits to any meal!
  • Gimbap: prepared same as maki or onigiri (but NEVER say that in Korea, never compare any Korean thing to a Japanese, that’s a taboo!) but can also be made with ham, kimchi, radish, etc. Usually served as a long roll cut in round pieces. Samgak-gimbap is a triangular rice cake with the filling that is wrapped in seaweed. You can buy them in 24/7 supermarkets, it’s wrapped in such smart way that stays fresh for days, and it’s the most delicious snack ever! We had midnight cravings for those every night, luckily we lived close to a train station.
  • Korean BBQ. It’s a crazy feast. Tables are equipped with gas hobs and exhaust hoods, you chose the part you are going to fry yourself on them and it is brought raw to you together with dozens of sides: vegetables, greens in oils, rices, kimchi, beans, leaves, even soups and whatever else. People get together in big groups for Korean BBQs, so it’s a social event, often held on weekends, with drinks and long talks.
  • Jumdak: it’s a way to cook chicken. Comes out tender, with s sweet-spicy flavor; served with noodles or rice cakes. There are a lot of ways to cook chicken in Korea, I often went for chicken dishes since I don’t eat pork and Koreans love pork. But beef of the best quality is to be found everywhere, too. It’s just that chicken dishes seemed much more creative. Chi-maek, spicy crunchy sweet chicken fingers, usually served with beer, was my favourite.
  • Desserts. I already mentioned above which places serve amazing sweets. Desserts are very different in Korea, there is mostly no chocolate base we are so used to, mostly milk-, rice- or soy base. I am not a big fan of things like mochi (remember not to throw Japanese words around), so I was quite skeptical. Patbingsu, a traditional dessert made out of shaved milk ice with red bean sauce, was interesting, but it’s a thing I try once for me. Still a must-do, though! The portions are enormous compared to what you get if order ice-cream in a European restaurant, so better share one with a buddy. Korean pastry is mindblowing, though! Anything that is out of dough is delicious! Especially cream cheese fillings are unbelievable.
  • Sannakji: that’s that famous baby octopus still alive. I eat raw things with love, but this was a bit heartbreaking for me. It’s served everywhere though, especially on food markets, so you will for sure have a chance to have a look and decide if you wanna give it a try.
  • Yukhoe: raw beef with sesame oil, spices and raw egg. That was my favorite alongside with Korean BBQ and drunk midnight gimpabs. I am a huge tartar fan, and I really liked this Asian variation.
  • Pajeon: a Korean “pancake” which is nothing like a pancake. It’s baked with seafood/meat/vegetables and greens already inside it. Since there is no bread served on tables in Korea, and I can’t eat anything without bread, that was my perfect solution, goes especially well with soups.

I fell in love with Korean food. Have heard so many weird things about it, that there is a smell of fermented fish sauce in each dish, that it’s too spicy, that it’s unhealthy with their instant noodles. Nothing like that nowadays. You can find anything you craving for made out of the best quality products and with a lot of love and care, since Koreans are foodies, too 😉 And they drink a lot! Drinking culture is complex, so don’t f*ck up. For example, if a person next to you has an empty glass, you can’t drink until you pour them some. Everyone eats a lot while drinking, too. If you come to a bar, you must order food. And it’s not a tiny snack of chips and nuts, it’s a complete 4-courses meal, and then you will get some more from the kitchen. It’s quite weird for us, we are used to separate going for dinner and just sharing a bottle of wine there and going for hardcore drinking to a cocktail bar, where I personally wouldn’t want to have an entire fried fish with my Old Cuban. Nevertheless, we tried to follow all local canons of eating and drinking culture, and had an unforgettable experience!

Korea, what an experience! I am sure I will go back one day and see, how much more to the future and to the past this country can take me.

 


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Terracina

Снимок экрана 2018-07-31 в 12.28.00Another chapter about Italy – the country I can talk about for days. My love for Italy is unconditional, so nothing can shake it foundation. But Terracina gave it a try!

I haven’t traveled much around the Italian South (which has nothing to do with the North). The southernmost I visited was Napoli. I had mixed feelings back then, but blamed it on the fact that we went in winter when a lot of places close for holidays, and services are in general different depending in a season in Italy. Some sightseeing, like the port and catacombs, however, were nice, so my overall impression was ok despite the smell, trash, no manners and culture whatsoever and shootings from windows.

I always imagined the south like something bright, loud, crazy, festive and pazzesco in a good sense. But Terracina honestly killed all that romantic vision for me. The touristic segment is a level of cheap Turkey, just not as cheap. The target audience of all restaurants and hotels are the Russians, so the personnel speaks Russian, the menus are translated – already a warning to be ready for the worst. But usually it’s scary simply because such adapted resorts attract the most unattractive tourist groups. This time that wasn’t exactly true and the visitors never bothered me, but the services did big deal. The 4-star hotel where we stayed demonstrated a 2-star level almost in everything, starting with very low quality products served for breakfast and at the bar, moving to a fee for clean towels. The cherry on a pie for me was that my personal belongings were taken by the cleaning personnel. Whatever, you can be unlucky with a hotel anywhere. But it’s like that everywhere in Terracina! I never even imagined that you can eat unsavory food in Italy. A parallel universe, if you ask me.

All restaurants do something wrong. ALL. Doesn’t matter if it’s a simple or a luxury one. I have never seen anything like this in Italy, it seemed like the town is cursed and no chefs are allowed to be born there. The most expensive were actually the worst: La Lanterna charges you crazy prices and all 7 dishes we ordered were inedible: tuna so overcooked that I wanted to cry seeing it; sour tomato pieces in a tartar (?!) most likely to make it look larger in volume… total disappointment; same goes for Borgo Pio that looked so attractive but turned out to be very average.

However, we managed to find few places that stand out in this gourmet horror! So, if you find yourself in Terracina, you might want to really be sure where you are going for dinner:

  • Il Caminetto: we tried it at the very beginning and came back a week later, having made sure there is nowhere else in town to eat good. Very fresh seafood, all cooked in an innovative and delicious way; one of the best linguine all’astrice (lobster pasta) I have ever tried; antipasto crudo (raw seafood) is a bit overrated and too small for its price, but still good quality; the service is a little annoying with 7 waiters constantly standing behind your back watching. The location in its own yard is also nice. Definitely a life-saver for dinner!
  • I Peccati di Giove: we went there for my mom’s Birthday and, as we realized later when the evenings could have been ruined by low food quality, it was a right choice. The place is pricy, but it’s fair for what they offer. Again, excellent raw seafood (which must be the case everywhere on the seashore, no?), good attentive service, possibilities of dish variations and special orders; good pasta all’astrice (it’s my benchmark with the number of those I have consumed) and romantic atmosphere. The only thing they missed was not having a spray agains mosquitos and having a lot of mosquitos which we all are allergic to, so we quickly had to run to the pharmacy and solve the problem ourselves. Such things should be thought of in good restaurants. But the evening was great!
  • La focaccia: it’s nothing special if you compare it to proper Italian trattorias. But for Terracina it’s ok, especially if you want simple cheap food fast. I’d recommend it for lunch. Pizzas were good; spaghetti alle vongole – too plain with the lack of garlic; but that might be a local cuisine speciality, since we never got enough garlic anywhere.
  • White Beach is a nice place for the beach line, where everything is usually low quality and overpriced. Go for red prawns tartar and frutti di mare fritti! And the fact that you can go there in a bathing suit is, of course, very comforting.

The town has an interesting phenomenon called cooperativa. There are few of those cooperatives of fishermen, where the freshest seafood is brought straight from fishing and cooked right there in large amounts. It looks like a canteen, there is self-service, trays and plastic plates. But it’s delicious! Cheaper than in restaurants, too, but due to a very various offer, you tend to take everything to try it out and paying the same. The atmosphere is far from a restaurant; it’s loud and smelly, I’d recommend to go early to avoid long lines. But even if you don’t feel like eating in such places every day, trying it once is a must simply out of cultural curiosity.

Whilst the touristic part of Terracina didn’t look very appealing to me, the old town is a treasure. Temples of the 1st-2nd century BC, the houses from thousand years old still standing inhabited and composing a unique picture of the city, impregnated with history,  foreign influences brought by Appian Way from other regions of Italy at the dawn of our era. Don’t be lazy, do an early morning hiking to Tempio di Giove – incredible view over the Lazio landscape!

I also found cafes of the old town more attractive than the modern ones by the seaside. In the past, people lived up the hill and never too close to the sea line, so some unique authentic places are still to be found:

  • Enoteca Saint Patrick has a wine cellar that is more than 400 years old. The owner proudly shows it to the visitors himself. And their choice of wines, together with a cheese platter, can replace any fancy dinner!
  • Made in Italy is located in a very authentic ancient yard, where you can examine the oldest walls made out of temple stones covered with frescoes (my dad is sure they were stolen from Pantheon back then to construct this town) while having decent pasta with seafood.
  • Green is only open in the evenings (like most of Italian restaurants that don’t open doors before 8 p.m.) and attracted me because of the outside seating area hidden below the tree crowns. Shade is a luxury in Terracina’s hot climate!

As you can see, I am very honest about my experiences in this blog. However, I try not to be overly negative even if something went wrong, because traveling is a blessing, and even mixed experiences are valuable. In case of unique in its craziness and lack of organization Italy, the good still always outweighs the bad for me. But I learnt that. I remember how outrageous it seemed to me that all train and taxi services went on a strike when I needed to get to Florence 4 years ago. I was SO mad. Now no trains ever came on time either, the transfer we ordered a night in advance also didn’t show up and didn’t pick up the phone. But having lived in Italy for quite some time, I am so ready for those events that they don’t freak me out anymore, I can laugh at that and join the locals who shrug shoulders when see a schedule board full of cancellato and go grab a coffee. Hardly could I ever imagined that Italians can serve bad food. Now I know it’s possible anywhere – which is also a traveler’s baggage of knowledge.

And Terracina has the best sea I’ve seen in Italy! 

The second part of my post will be devoted to Rome. It’s a must go when you are in Terracina. There is no train station, so you first have to get to Monte San Biagio, and from there you take a train to Termini.

I went to Rome for the first time with Liza 4 years ago. And we had such an intense program there that covered pretty much everything from the banal tourist routes in 3 days. So, since then I only look for something special in the city, and Rome has a lot! The first day of this trip I was in Rome alone waiting for my travel companions to arrive, so I devoted the time to explore the neighborhood of Monti. It’s a charming district close to the Coliseum, full of hipster bars, tiny designer shops, open terraces and vintage markets. When the sightseeing of Rome is done, it’s definitely worth visiting! The coolest vintage shop is said to be Pifebo; I also loved Kingsize. Here are some more. Mercato di Monti itself is open on the weekends and it’s probably the coolest flea market ever! That’s where I wish I traveled with a car! There are a lot of designer shops in the area, too. I fell in love with Lol Roma.

Check out Via dei Giubbonari and Via dei Coronati for more local shopping! There is a place Cantina e Cucina nearby, where you can stop at almost any time for proper Italian food. In Monti, I liked Urbana 47 and La bacca m’briaca, but there are a lot of cozy places, so explore! No matter how much I appreciate Italian traditions, it’s nice than in Rome one doesn’t have to stick to the usual weird opening hours in order to get good food.

In a few days, we came back to Rome together with travel gang. We devoted half of the day to Vaticano. I am not posting pics since I already created entire galleries for Rome and for Vatican years ago. But now I looked at everything from a completely different angle and was convinced that you don’t go to Vatican just once – this is a place to come back every 5-10 years as you mature. I’ll definitely be back to Rome and Vatican soon, since their potential to amaze is infinite.


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Lignano vol. II

And we are in Lignano again! A small charming town in Friuli-Venezia Giulia we fell in love with last year. This time I drove from Vienna, which took me only 6 hours together with a stop at Wörthersee. A very comfortable and fast way, I couldn’t be more satisfied! Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSeeing the town during high season was a new experience. Last September everything was quite empty already, a lot of restaurants closed down, the streets were quiet. This time we caught the official opening of the season, which is every year a huge deal, with concerts, loud parties outside until late and people constantly arriving. It was wonderful, how Lignano woke up and started shining! IMG_1686Now let’s get to my favorite topic which becomes even more intense when I reach Italy: food!

During our stay, there was an Easy Fish Festival: streetfood markets serving anything from fish croquettes and ceviches to oysters and raw tuna; wine tasting areas, masterclasses, and a great vibe on Sabbiadoro coastline. I love such events! Food there is usually better than in the finest acknowledged restaurants, and one can learn so much.

Last year I already wrote about our favorite restaurants in Lignano. Brigantino, to my greatest regret, closed down. But we found a new great location outside of town which has amazing seafood and delivers a proper Italian gourmet experience: al Fiume Stella is a beautiful hidden place with a great view, romantic area and the freshest raw prawns. Ask chef to prepare a plate of raw seafood for your company – and you will squeal from pleasure. We as well entrusted the choice of primi piatti to the chef, getting a red prawn risotto and a crab pasta – two of my favorite seafoods, how could they have known 😉

In the town itself, there is also a trouvaille that I loved from the first evening on – Sandrocchia restaurant. Take a tuna steak! A very generous portion. Good pizzas, amazing cheap wines and sparkling wines (order by decanters!). Definitely a must-try. Don’t be scared by the waiting line outside, it moves fast and is worth it!

We went for Bidin (fancy gourmet) and la Botte (hugest portions in the world) again and had the same pleasant experience as last year. La Botte would probably become my all-time favorite if I lived in Lignano: not expensive, fast, delicious; you can feed the entire family with one dish.

Coming with a car was great because we got to explore the are a little bit more. Last year we rented a car for couple days to go to Venice and to Croatia, but having it parked downstairs the entire trip gives this wonderful freedom of going to another small town for lunch. We went for Grado and Marano.

Grado is quite a big town, but surprisingly not very touristic and rather an authentic one. A lot of elder people drinking vine from 10 a.m. on, narrow streets which have never been renovated, excavations with real artifacts sticking out on the main square, a lot of bicycles, small dogs and bakery shops. This is a town you expect to see somewhere in the depths of Tuscany, but not on the seaside which is usually all about beaches. Quite a nice surprise! Will definitely come back for a lunch here.

Marano Lagunare, on the contrary, is tiny. Local navigation has a lot of berths there; fishermen are to be seen everywhere. We drove up to the wild beach which could be a great escape from crowded expensive ones of Lignano and Bibione. I am sure one can buy the freshest fish and amazing products directly from farmers there. And where else do you see 7-year olds playing football on the main square? L’Italia vera!

We are planning to be back to Lignano more times this summer. Can’t wait ti see how it looks like at the peak of the season, play more tennis in local club, eat tartars followed by oily pasta dishes, then grab that ridiculously huge ice cream where you can put as many extras in as you want; have digestives at the local bar where we already run into people we know. Lignano is our place!


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NN-Msk

Hello from Russia!IMG_9845.jpgI think this year I already traveled to my motherland more times than during previous 5 years after I moved abroad. I am currently working for a Russian company which means frequent trips to local branches. My second business trip now included Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.

I never travelled much around Russia which is a shame. As a kid, I was spending many months in Sochi where my grandparents live; made a school trip to Volgograd once and sometimes visited Samara. I lived in Saint Petersburg during my first university years… and that’s it! So, business trips may be my great opportunity to fill in this gap.

All those who are inspired by traveling tend to go as far as possible. We get a feeling that the longer the flight is – the more different and unusual will be the place, culture, cuisine, people. I agree, it’s somehow true. But I know so many travelers who have been everywhere in the world but are totally missing knowledge and traveling experience in their own lands. I am one of them. The great thing about this trip for me was going to a far-away village for a weekend. I admit, never have I seen the “real” Russia: tiny villages, some still with no electricity (no kidding), with their own customs and sometimes even sharing their own language. This introductory trip was not that wild, it was around beautiful and completely civilized places. But the nature is anyway very different from what one sees around Moscow.

I don’t have much pictures because we were moving around on a all-terrain quadrocycle: it was mostly off-road extreme where you hold on anything you can grab as tight as possible trying not to fall off. Not an easy task to take pics on the way! But if you follow me on Instagram, you must have seen my stories of driving in the wild forest, harvesting endless silky fields and scaring all chickens on village roads. Eating smoked fish from local river and wild boar at a hunter’s house was a unique experience. One day I will travel more of Russia. Probably sooner than I think, with my business trips.

I had few days at our Moscow office, too. I am not an admirer of the capital, but spending several days there to catch up with so many friends that live there is never bad. On average, at least once a year I stop in Moscow for 2-3-day layover during my trips, to talk, walk and eat. And catch up with my favorite people there!

The food situation in Russia is not that vivid after the well-known sanctions, but Moscow has it all! I already have my places where I always go whenever in the city, like Italianets (“Итальянец”) to enjoy Salvatore’s original fusions as well as classical Italian recipes. This time we also tried “dessert from the chef”, which he prepares himself life right at your table – and it is absolute love between a human and a dish! Another place which I like, especially when the terrace is open, is Rybi net (“Рыбы нет”) – one of those rare occasions when you can eat good quality meat in Russia. We always go there exclusively for tartar but, unfortunately, this time they ean out of it (?!) and the waiter didn’t know that when takin our order, so we already got the drinks and had to finish them super quickly and waste money for no joy and walk away disappointed. But like that we tried a new place for me – Wine&Crab. We were unlucky there as well when they forgot our order and would admit that only 25 minutes later. The apology, however, looked like unlimited refill of prosecco, so even I didn’t throw much shit at the fan. I was so overwhelmed and relieved and already a bit tipsy because right then found out that – DRUMROLL – I graduated from the University of Vienna! All my credits got approved and my diploma is ready for a pickup. So, Crab&Wine had me on a lucky hour. Concerning food, I must say everything with crab is awesome! I love crab meat, but you don’t get it much in Vienna, so it’s a must-eat for me every time in Russia. We took pasta and dumplings from the crab menu and were very happy. But meat dish and dessert were nothing special at all, I would recommend sticking to crab things only.

On my way back through Moscow I managed to catch up with my favorite couple, Jane and Rustam, for which I had to leave the house at 6 a.m., and I would only do that for them. They took me to another place new for me – Dr. Живаго, and it’s really worth visiting. To begin with, the view on the Red Square and Russian Museum are indeed spectacular. I had no idea there is a café right across the street from the very heart of Russia with such view. We went at breakfast time (apparently, if I left at 6) and the menu is larger than most of classical breakfast-sets-and-some-egg-dishes menus. The authentic pure Soviet interior and atmosphere are also quite inspiring. And it’s open 24/7! Properly Russian!

Due to my extremely tight schedule, I didn’t have the chance to catch up with anyone else but my sister with her husband and my two closest friends in Moscow. But I have a feeling I will be coming much more often now, so next time, my dears!

P.S.: I also happened to be in the capital for the 9th of May – a major holiday in Russia, the end of WWII. One hell of a spectacular show! March, military planes, fireworks covering entire skies – wow! This is one of those worth seeing, but only once in a lifetime things. 

And now… welcome to Nizhny Novgorod. I am not even sure how to spell it, I’d write Nizhniy but they seem to do it differently. A city that I didn’t even know where to look for in a map, just like most of Russian cities. It’s very old and there are plenty of 18th century houses integrated in modern buildings – something different for me, because I grew up in a very new town, just few decades old. But besides the views, Nizhny is quite similar to Togliatti because of almost the same size and also being an industrial hub. People seemed a bit more old-fashioned to me, though. Maybe Togliatti just has more young population, not sure.

What can I say? Cities in Russia are very different from Moscow. The capital could be another country on a different continent. Just 3,5h in train – but you are in a completely different world where everyone thinks, behaves and lives differently. I noticed major differences even better during my work there, watching managers from Moscow and staff from Nizhny cooperate and confront. In Austria, you see the difference between Vienna and smaller towns, too, of course! But in Russia it seems to be not just different in lifestyles, but people from completely different time and space. Now I would be even more different to travel to the far east of Russia.

I didn’t have much time to walk around the city or go out there since I was working A LOT. But the Kremlin and main pedestrian street, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya, are must-sees. There are a lot of cafes and fancy-ish bars. I had a breakfast at Coffee Cake: quite delicious, the combos that everyone loves to have for breakfast are interesting, but they could be bigger and even more expensive would be fine. I wasn’t full enough with one combo, but maybe it’s me not ever being full enough. A place next to it, Mishka, is a small pastry shop with extremely attractive desserts, is definitely worth forgetting about your diet for once. BerЁzka Bar at the end of the same street looks as a place to be for the locals. I had a burger there because the menu is a bit of a weird mix of everything and I couldn’t pick anything: all products seemed fresh, but something was wrong, I didn’t really like the way it was prepared. And last but not least, Mitrich steakhouse, is most likely the best restaurant of the city. I had a chance to go there few times because it’s in the same building where my company’s office is. Russian-style luxurious, indeed delicious food, but the service is way too obtrusive, if you ask my opinion. It is obviously aimed on satisfying business people who are the main audience, so the staff is doing a great job! It’s just that I am a fan of more chilled atmosphere. But I was happy to learn that there is good food outside Moscow.

In general, this trip was just as interesting as it was exhausting. Back to Vienna now, getting some sleep and preparing for Pioneers Festival this week and new trips to come soon!


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Lisbon upd

Снимок экрана 2018-05-10 в 11.13.10I mostly write new posts when en route. Under the motto «everything but work» that recently replaced «everything but studies, those curtains need to be washed asap» I am writing a quick update to my last year’s Lisbon overview after having visited it again during my trip to Portugal this spring break.

I fell in love from the first sight with Lisbon. My frequent readers remember cuntless tributes to bright tiles, pastel de nata and that awesome vibe of the city, when you turn around the most random corner late in the evening – and some people are for sure celebrating life there at another cosy wooden terrace eating the best octopus and drinking good wines cheering with strangers. When me and Liza planned our trip to Porto, it was a must-do for her to visit Lisbon, too. I joined with pleasure and here we are boarding that train that took us through the country just for 19 euros. We booked São Bento Hostel and it was another experience of a very cool stay in a hostel together with Fabrika in Tbilisi, Bar Hostel in Munich and Transit Loft in Berlin. Two tries in Amsterdam and Milan, however, were awful, so you never know. I am very respectful of those who run cheap but cool hostels with their heart and they feel like real home with flatmates who you know since ages and love. The rooftop with stunning view that Lisbon hostel had was the best way to start a day.

Same as last year, I think Lisbon needs no special roots, as walking around any neighbourhood I have been to was an interesting experience with beautiful views, cool shops and cafes, loads of tiles and friendly people. Literally in the middle of nowhere, few times we suddenly found coolest boutiques or most delicious dishes. Nevertheless, I would like suggest including those in your walk:

  • Rua dos Correeiros is one of the most touristy streets, but I really like it and all side-streets; a lot of cool places to be found in that area;
  • Inner yard of Baixa station: full of terraces, hidden from loud cars and crowds;
  • Find Muji store and go behind it – secret stairs for cool pictures. There is a hidden elevator right inside souvenir shop there that will take you up for free while tourists are waiting in lines to get tickets for a big metal one 😉
  • Another important staircase, Calçada do Duque, goes from Largo Trindade Coelho to Praça Dom Pedro IV – a little square with food tents, where musicians play and people dance. Having breakfast on one of those terraces placed right on the stairs is pleasant, and no matter what direction you take there –it brings you either to a nice view over downtown or back to busy shopping streets. I’d love to have an entire day to explore every garden and building along those stairs!
  • Rua da Vitória: go down the hill until the end of the street, there will be a small shopping center; -1 floor has a boutique with very beautiful unique jewelry;
  • I finally tried those famous sandwiches at a nova pombalina that was closed last year, and they really are awesome! Good fast delicious snack if you are on the way to Lisbon Cathedral;
  • Rua de São Paulo that leads to old district of São Bento where we stayed last year, is wort taking a walk to: starting on one of my favourite cafes concentration, Praça de São Paulo, it contains a number of small coffee places where you can observe local people’s routine.
  • Amoreiras shopping centre: for those who enjoy mass-market and famous brands shopping just as much as unique jewelry and fashion from small shops in the old town. 

Liza loved Lisbon just as much as I expected, so my goal was fulfilled. Even though I still had a long list of restaurants from last year, when we saw a place called “Dr. Wine”, there were no more hesitations about our dinner location choice. Beautiful interior and quite a unique mixture of prawns risotto with fried fish made me add this place to the top of my list. I hope to come back in the nearest future and continue exploring this magic city!