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Sochi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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


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BCN’17: 7D

IMG_0462Whenever I travel somewhere for long enough time to have my camera on me, I usually come up with a major photopost that includes every pretty corner I spotted. However, Barcelona has always been such a place of interest for me, that I already have several galleries from the magical place. So, I will just leave some random shots and portraits of myself and my travel companions. I am sure, many more beautiful pictures from Barcelona are to come in my life!IMG_0541IMG_0515IMG_0436IMG_0614IMG_0624IMG_0661IMG_0693IMG_0694IMG_0704IMG_0734IMG_0797IMG_0820Miss you already, stunning place!


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Berlin Reunion

IMG_4867This is a short flashback to my weekend trip to Berlin this summer while I am sitting at the airport waiting to board the plane to Moscow. Jetsetting season, another month to go!

My school times friends invited me to come as a surprise for Alina’s birthday and I didn’t hesitate a moment to book a ticket BCN-SXF and see the guys. It’s indeed amazing to keep in touch with the people you used to hang out together with 10 years ago and still have so much to talk about. Switching from incredible heat Barcelona was experiencing that week was good, too. Even though I froze to my bones and regretted not having taken anything warm 10 minutes after I landed. 

My first time in Berlin wasn’t that long ago, and I liked it so much that was willing to repeat asap, so the chance to go came right on time. I already mentioned the places I liked the most in my post from the roadtrip, this time I also got to see Monkey Bar and some party spots. The bar is very nice, similar to what 25h hotel in Vienna offers, but it’s more of a summer place. Chilling on the terrace which is much bigger than the Viennese one was very enjoyable, so were the drinks and the music. And I was completely convinced that the Germans really don’t understand what weißer Spritzer is.

Taling about clubs and parties, again, we went for summer options around Schlesisches Tor. Was a completely different kind of party from what we had in winter. Both are very Berlin-style authentic, but are various experience. Watergate, Visionäre and IPSE were the ones that we hit, I personally loved Visionäre on Friday. And this time I talked so much to foreigners going there regularly to party that I completely understood the idea behind it. Would really love to keep on visiting Berlin from time to time to party.

P.S.: and that annoying fence in front of the Berlin Wall is finally removed!!!


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Favorite Summer Tradition

…for me is, of course, annual trips to Italy! This post is a throwback to the Italian trip of the summer 2017. Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetBack in the days I would spend whole summers mostly in Italy, only leaving for 2-4 weeks for somewhere else. The main reason, other than unconditional love for Italy, would be to practice the language. But now I speak decent Italian and from last summer on have been trying to broaden horizons and travel outside my favorite country more, as well as start learning some other language. Spanish was chosen to be the next one, as you remember from my 2016 summer trip to Cuba and Mexico.

Nevertheless, a trip to Italy is a must-do for me every summer as well as every winter, as Italy is not only the best way to spend hot days for me, but the most desired snowboarding destination, too. What a country!

My summer vacation this year started exactly like the one last year, by the way: we made a road-trip to Milan and then hit couple more places, including a lake. Trip with the girls last year was awesome, so why not do it again, we thought? We were different team this time, but it was just as great! I am so happy I bring all my friends to Milan and to my most beloved city of Italy – Florence. Last year I went there with my Australian friend, but this time we managed to include Florence in the road trip plan right away.

Four days in my favorite country to begin with – what can be a better kick off for the summer?! It’s gonna be a great one, I know! This time I don’t want to heap this post up with must-eat’s, as everything is a must-eat for me in Italy. So, let’s skip my usual approach to travel notes which always includes tips for restaurants, bars and view decks, and I will just leave couple pics here to remember how great this trip was. There is no need to prove that everything is worth tasting and seeing there 😉

Last year’s memories of the times when I studied at Bocconi together with breakfasts at my beloved eat me & go; nights at Aperol terrace dancing like crazy above Duomo Square and parking for free as if we were always locals there

Next stop – my one and only Florence. The voice announcing trains on the station still gives me shivers of the memories from those times when I used to come to that station anxious and happy; narrow streets every single one of which I still remember as if I had spent my childhood there; favorite bar La Petite where it all started 3 years ago; leather market and the “don’t let him take you to the big shop, it’s a forbidden experience!” from Sex&The City; risotto ai porcini and the view on Duomo cupola in the sun dawn.

I was the happiest there, in Florence. I am happy now, too. Just differently happy. More mature or more cynically happy, which is by no chance a measure of less happiness; just the difference. The time when I was happy in Florence was most likely the last one, when I was happy as a child. Now I am actually happy for the first time since then, since that other “happy”. Now it’s a grown-up happy. The concentration of the word happy in this paragraph must exceed the use of this term in my whole blog.

Away from redundant revelations: our final stop on the way back to Austria was at Garda lake. Last year we went to Como, and our horrifying experience with running out of gas on a mountain road was the most stressful memory until we ran out of gas on a highway on the way to Croatia recently :-/ Life doesn’t teach us much, I know! But the lake was nevertheless so beautiful that this time we decided we absolutely need views like that again. We chose Garda because had only been there in spring time before. It is absolutely amazing in summer, too! 

I claimed I wouldn’t give any advice now, but just one, please: go somewhere around Salò when visiting Garda: no tourists, perfectly quiet and beautiful. Felt like the air itself has its sound there. Loved it!

This year I was driving back with the gang, too. Last time I stayed in Milan due to the start of my studies there, and this year I was initially planning to stay in Italy until my flight to Spain. But at the very last moment things twisted around and I went back with the girls which was a good decision: the views on the drive back are breathtaking!

After our nice Italian days I came back to Vienna, which I never do in summer. I guess I am starting to feel completely at home there, if I actually want to be there even during my time off. Spending 5 additional days with my boyfriend before leaving for longer holidays felt very good. Now I am already away again, for this summer I moved to Barcelona. But about that – later 😉

Have great summer holidays, everyone!

Beso


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Mexico

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetHaving known in advance that i would be spending quite long time in Cuba, I thought why not fly somewhere else around for a weekend? First I wanted to go to Colombia, but the flights were only to Bogota and my Colombian friends told me it’s not fun at all by itself, but I wouldn’t have enough time to get to the icean coast. And, well, honestly, once you have Cuban beaches around – you don’t really crave for more. So, I gave it another thought and booked a flight to Cancun, Mexico.

After my third week in Havana I got to the familiar José Martí airport expecting hell on customs again. Well, it wasn’t worse than any control in Russia. Next I was surprised by how comfortable the low-coaster flight around Latin America is! In Europe low-coasters mean the shittiest ever possibility to travel, sometimes I’d honestly chose a donkey. But my cheap flight Havana – Cancun was so nice! Very comfortable seats and alcohol offered! Bravo, Interjet!

Entering Mexico is one hell of a challenge, too. I needed a visa that I had to order in advance. I was so happy I had done all the bookings before arriving to Cuba. Those going there, keep in mind that it’s impossible to purchase any tickets and book any hotels from Cuba, only with tourist agencies (a friend of mine who I met in Havana wanted to join and tried to book something) that have very limited and very expensive range of routes available.

Apart from the visa thing, they give you two papers as you arrive. Both are only in Spanish. Ok, I know enough basics to fill in the migration card. But the customs one was really tricky for me as there are things like «how many dead animals samples and guns are you carrying across the boarder» in Spanish. Leaving the aircraft and getting inside the airport was tricky, too, as the doors were simply locked and we were all standing there until some smart guy just pressed the emergency door and we all calmly walked away as the sirens were going off. Lovely! Welcome to Mexico!

After having passed passport control being asked tons of questions (who the f*ck would want to escape to your country that you are that strict at the boarder?!) the next thing I noticed was how kind and helpful the taxi drivers were. Even after I had already told them I don’t need one (love saving two bucks), they still helped me to find a bus, and when I realized there was no money exchange outside the airport, they kindly walked me back in through the back door using their passes. Awww! After a bit pushy and sometimes annoying cuban guys I didn’t expect somebody to be so nice to me.
Another advice for those who want to save 2$ – there IS a bus to the Cancun center! Nobody knows how to find it and would tell you it doesn’t exist – it DOES. Fight the system, climb the fence as you go right leaving the terminal – it IS somewhere there! I promise! The company is called ADO and there would be a small window in front of the bus stop where you can purchase a ticket. They are extremely cheap and the buses are comfortable and fast. Taxi would cost approx. 250 pesos which is cheap, too.
The way itself was very emotional for me. We were passing by some stadiums which looked exactly like the one my American high school had. I got so sentimental! It was the first time in South America for me since I left the US after high school. I knew Mexico must look something like the US suburbs, but never expected it would give me so many feelings. I miss the US school times. Miss out stadium where I was throwing shit at P.E. teacher because didn’t want to run; miss playing in a tennis tram, leaving classes to go to the tournament with the mates; singing and eating donuts on the way back from another match we had won. Being in that kind of high school made me feel like being a part of something great, being in a team which always had my back. I am very happy for the Mexican kids because they seemed to have the same as I was observing them on that stadium.
Anyways, back from the nostalgic vibes. It took me about half an hour to get to the city. Then I struggled for 2 more hours to find my hotel, watch out with addresses in Cancun. Finally, some american guy came up to me and spent half an hour of his evening to search with me. How lovely is that! The people in Mexico are really nice from what I have seen.
The receptionist spoke no English; I guess even the visiting Americans speak Spanish here. Luckily, after 3 weeks in Cuba, mine was just enough to manage checking in and asking simple stuff.
I went for a walk down to the ocean. As I was staying in the center, not on the beach, everything looked quite industrial. But the streets are still very bright and colorful; there is music playing from every other door; people are dressed up enjoying summer night heat. It was quite crowded outside, and even when I walk away somewhere in the middle of nowhere to see the lighthouse, I didn’t feel unsafe. I guess the tourist zones of Mexico are perfectly fine with that. img_8148
My next pleasant discovery was a shop at the gas station. Seriously. I was thirsty as the heat was tremendous so I stopped to buy some water. And omg! There were yogurts there! Cheese!!! American chocolates! Beer! I swear, I started crying as I was holding some sweets, pack of cheese and wine at the cashier. It excited me so much that I decided my night was already complete, went back to the hotel, observed a horrible car crash on the way, turned on the TV – and OMG! There were Avengers! That was really a moment of appreciating the American culture. I felt so complete just watching TV, eating my chocolates and falling asleep with no lizards in bed. Cuban experience really teaches to appreciate simple things in life so much more. We must be thankful to live in the first world. img_8152
Good morning! It’s 5.15 a.m. and I am already on track! I was so excited to see as much as possible during my short stay in Mexico that the sleep wasn’t in my schedule.
I walked out of the hotel as it was still dark and started walking to the giant chain hotels area being sure that this is where the best view must be. I even managed to understand how the public transportation system can help me in getting there. Taxis are extremely cheap in Mexico, but sitting next to the locals on their way to start a working day is just very interesting for me. They didn’t have unhappy faces on the way to work at 6 a.m. which surprised me a lot. But as the bus made a turn – I realized why. With THAT view I would wake up before sunrise every day.

I got off near Playa Tortugas and took couple hours to walk along beaches in both directions. That was incredibly beautiful. The sunrise, bright purple sky reflected in warm water, white sand and the first surfers already on the horizon. Dreamlife.

I got back to the hotel right on time for breakfast. They made me take off my shoes as I was entering the restaurant zone and sprayed me with mosquito repellent. The food was good (and very diverse after Cuban rice and platanos), too.
The sun was up, temperature was rising – the time for me to board an air-conditioned bus on my way to Chichen-Itza! One can get there from the ADO bus terminal (intersection of Tulum and Uxmal). Take the 1st class – almost same price, but takes much less time.
On the way to Chichen-Itza I was not smart enough to just make it so I got off at the wrong station and this is how I visited Valladolid – a small village in the middle of Yucatan. A very bright and positive place. The locals were just selling fruits and dreamcatchers literally everywhere. Even though there were no tourists and I was the only blond non-Spanish speaking person, no one stared or pointed at me. So I guess they are either very polite or they still manage to see a lot of foreigners around. I walked around for couple hours to find out how I can now get to the pyramids, take pictures and grab some local food. Everyone I ran across seemed to enjoy posing for me shooting.
I finally made it! The archeological site of Chichen-Itza!Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
There wasn’t a long queue to get in; i’d recommend arriving there either very early in the morning or couple hours before closing. I’d say 1,5hrs is enough to see the whole territory. But save some time for lunch and souvenirs there, too! I never buy souvenirs since trip to Cairo in 2005 I think. But there I couldn’t resist. They really ARE beautiful. From stone plates and skulls with maya or inca ornaments to handmade silver and gold jewelry unlike any you can see in stores. Bargain! It works very well there. For me it was even more exciting as the first Spanish speaking experience outside classroom. I spent quite a lot of time looking at all the stuff, and there is a lot, and eventually got a very good deal on a scull, plate with maya calendar for my parents and a silver ring. Another thing that surprised me that the sellers were not annoying at all unlike any souvenir market you can imagine. They are very friendly, even gave me some presents, but they don’t yell at you or try to persuade you to buy something from them. So, you can smile at them not being afraid to spend too much time in front of one tent.
Back to the maya ruins. The place is very relaxing and surprisingly quiet. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so the nature around is indeed beautiful. There are tourists, yes, but the territory is so huge that you don’t even hear any voices. I enjoyed just sitting on the grass there and watching the main pyramid for some time. Until I realized I was sitting on an ant hill. Try walking deeper in the forest behind the ruins of columns, too. It’s an incredible feeling of uniting with the nature that had stayed untouched for thousands of years, only the Mayas managed to get there. I actually have no idea how they walked through the jungles there. They don’t seem to be passable at all. I had noticed from the plane already that there are just few roads across Yucatan. But from the bus it became even more clear that forests around are simply impossible to even walk through. Scary stuff for somebody like me who had barely seen jungle only on the way to volcanos in Hawaii.

Even though getting to Chichen-Itza takes some time and effort, I still highly recommend saving a day for that once you are in Yucatan. It’s worth it! Absolutely astonishing place. And you get to see some real Mexico around, too, unlike bays where only tourists stay. I remember that I called the Chichen-Itza site a very kind place when was still under impression.

Back to Cancun. I was so satisfied with my long productive day once I got back that wanted to just relax, have good dinner and walk around a bit more. So, the last night and the day after I spent just trying different tacos, walking around the town and going down to beaches. Playa del Carmen is an amazing place. It’s a bit further away but definitely worth going. The main hotels have beautiful terraces and rooftop bars, simply explore! If you want to get away from the hotels area and try the downtown – I liked a lot the area around Avenue Yaxchilán. Nice restaurants and bars, cool music from every door, life performances and people dancing. I even ran into a huge bikers’ party there, that was very impressive as well! My US experience memories striking again. img_8150
A weekend in Mexico was very informative and on the other hand relaxing after all the Cuban energy and bustle. Definitely a place to come back to!

But even after such nice and civilized time I was very excited to go back to Cuba, that much it got my heart. More stories from there are coming.