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Summertime’19

Another original title to the post, huh?

In fact, this is a note devoted to Lignano – a lovely seaside town in Italy that has become our summer home in the past 2 years. But it IS my summertime so far. I went there already 5 times this year, planning to go again in a couple weeks. IMG_6882_Facetune_31-03-2019-13-27-15Lignano is a typical summer resort, crowded in July and August and turning into a ghost town between October and April. The most beautiful time is, however, off season. First time this year we hit it with the girls as early as in March, and loved it!

Empty beaches, yet already warm sun (the header picture is taking during my visit at the beginning of April), no people, tidy streets, absolute peace around…and most restaurants still closed. You have to know where to get your food off season 😉 Bidin and La Botte are open almost all year round (on some weeks only Friday to Sunday); places on the main shopping street in Sabbiadoro also have longer operating season. I really like  O’Sole mio, but better go for pizza there (Diavola is amazing!), we were more impressed than by pastas. Agosti and a restaurant at Hotel Blue Marine are one of the best fish places in Sabbiadoro, if you ask me. But off season a picnic with prosciutto, mozarella, fresh bread and some wine on the beach will do, too!

I am sure I mentioned it about 20 times in my previous posts about Lignano, but my favourite restaurant there is still Sandrocchia ❤ From their tartares and crunchy focaccias to red prawns and burrata (!) pasta and mussels in wine sauce. Incredible! We chose it to celebrate Birthday of our beloved Anna when went there another time with the ladies; it also happens to be one of the restaurants open until really late (1 am), and their tiramisu is delivered straight from heaven.

In June parties are already starting, all restaurants open up, and the sea, as it’s not deep in that area, warms up very fast. So far June is my favourite time to visit. September is great, too, but it can occasionally get rainy, like 2 years ago. We came for the first time back then and still fell in love with the place. So much that we decided to stay. I’m really happy to have Lignano just 4,5 hrs drive away, get away for long weekends there, be so close to my parents, pine forests which I could ride with a bicycle for hours; tennis courts I am ready to hit at 7 am every day (and then polish with beers and croissants),warm silky sea and all those amazing foods. I’m super glad when friends come visit, too, so if you happen to stay in Lignano – give me a note 😉

There’s a lot to do in the area, from foie gras farms in Palmanova and fishing markets in Aprilia Marittima to golf clubs, bicycle routes, cruises to Croatia and Slovenia and just exploring ancient villages filled with artefacts around. But for me the main attraction is still Venice.

I go to beautiful Venice every time I’m in Lignano, may it be even a 3-days stay. Never thought a place this touristy can get my heart. It’s always crowded, just live with that and search for secret routes, like I mastered after about 25 visits there. Yet, it is always so new and unexplored. Charming during any season and even weather, I’d say.

On my pre-last visit I was lucky to catch up with Polina there! We checked out Fondaco dei Tedeschi: a place with one of the best views, where you don’t even pay for entrance, but have to register for a time slot in advance, Isn’t this place just magical from any perspective???

Lignano, thanks for making my summer that I spend in Europe this year for the first time bearable! See you soon ❤


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Viennese Balls 2019

Processed with VSCO with m3 presetOne of the most beautiful Viennese traditions: the famous balls. I admit that my absence in the past 2 months has been determined partially by getting ready for balls, then attending them, and then recovering from them. What a life!

This year I attended 3 balls and there is one more to go: the best night of the year, Life Ball. But it’s a completely different format of a ball, and this post is about the traditional ones that are held in Hofburg, the palace those born in the 1900s know from the cartoon “Princess Sissi”.

Viennese Balls are strict in dress code and traditions. Floor length dresses only for women and tuxedos for men. Traditional Austrian clothing, dirndl and trachten, are allowed on a certain occasion. To the ball held by the United Nations, one can be dressed in a national costume of another country, too. That was the one we kicked the ball season off with.

IAEA Staff Association Ball

this one was a lot of fun due to the number of acquaintances we met there. Crowd of young and ambitions people, interesting conversations while drinking wine in gallons, cool fun music and the best techno and disco dance floors out of all balls. Yes, you read it right! There are modern DJs at the balls, too, and after midnight the palace turns into a rave.

Ball der Wiener Wirtschaft

this one is much more traditional than IAEA ball. The crowd is significantly older, but nevertheless dances quadrille with even more enthusiasm than the young ones 😉 The classical part of the ball, from the opening ceremony with debutants to the orchestra and singers of the main ballroom, was of the best quality. Pure aesthetic enjoyment! Also, more seating areas than dance floors, if compared to how the other balls were organised. Suitable for those who are more into music and performance rather than crazy nights out.

Kaffeesiederball

This one is said to be the coolest in Vienna. We had a lot of fun because we gathered a large group of people. Even Polina flew on from London for the occasion. What can be more exciting than a bunch of friends dressed in amazing gowns pre-drinking all together in one of the most elegant bars of Vienna? We chose Park Hyatt Bank Brasserie&Bar for the occasion. Not something that happens every weekend, huh?

Apparently, the pregame was awesome, because we came to the ball itself very late. I would be regretting this a lot if it would be my first ball, but luckily I already saw the opening ceremony of another ball, so didn’t feel left out as we rolled into the palace just before midnight. Next year, however, I would give it a desperate try to show up a bit earlier. But the later you come – the longer you are likely to stay! We stayed until the very end at all balls, but after this one we even went to a club. Also one hell of an experience in a long light gown! But this is Vienna baby, so in fact half of the club was dressed like that, too. Ah, this time of the year! Elegance and never feeling overdressed. I wish I could just wear gowns all year long. Sometimes I do, though. But such occasions as balls really make one feel special.

Since I started talking about Viennese traditions and clothing, in between the balls we had a night of dressing up un traditional Austrian dirndls and going to a heuriger. Usually this is a kind of entertainment for summer, but our dear Olivia had her farewell leaving Vienna for New York, so we had a proper reason.

I am honestly quite excited to be in Vienna the upcoming summer (I always left before) and experience things like Kirtag and all the crazy wine festivals that I missed before.

For now we are saying goodbye to the Ball Season and are looking forward to wearing our gowns again next year, searching for more down to Earth entertainments meanwhile.

 


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Paris, Je t’adore

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetParis. How much garlic smell, macarons crackle, demonstrations noise and lights of fancy shopfronts in this word.

Last time I went to Paris was more than two years ago, so we decided to give ourselves a long weekend of pleasure of eating snails and foie gras, shopping on sales and just getting away from dull Viennese winter.

We finally spent enough time on Montmartre for me to understand how much I love it there! Last time we took a short walk because there were too many tourists; during my first visit in Paris we only went to the Moulin Rouge. I must admit I liked the city during demonstrations everyone is so scared of. No tourists, and even the locals stay in. Easy to get a table in restaurants, to take pictures without crowds in the background, and just to enjoy Paris the way it would be if it wasn’t too popular. The weather in January is also surprisingly fine! We came during the worst day of that week’s forecast, and it was still much better than what winter looks like in Vienna.

Yellow vests and constant complaints about winter aside, the main topic for me never changes – THE FOOD. This time we were better prepared than I was last times, when my travel companions were just walking me to the fanciest restaurants of Paris, like Chez Julien, Chez André and Fouquet’s, which are without any doubts amazing, but trying something different was what I wanted out of this trip. So, here we go with what we managed to eat in 48 hours Paris:

  • Hardware Soiété: opened by Australians, there is another one in Melbourne. Literally the best brunch I’ve ever had! Lobster eggs Benedict blew my mind! The entire menu is very creative and goes far beyond avocado and poached eggs, but not too far, where you get a leaf on a burnt crumb for breakfast, the time when you are the hungriest. I’d love to try everything in the menu! The staff is super nice, I guess mostly Australians, so here you are not afraid of not being understood – a common fear in Paris. The drinks are also flawless, Anfisa had her best cold brew there. The area of Sacré-Cœur is also pleasant to start your day there. Definitely a brunch-must-visit! The place was full, we came with no reservation (early, before 10) and immediately got a nice table, but when we were done with the food there was already a decent queue outside.
  • For our next breakfast, we decided to have it traditional French way: get a croque monsieur sandwich, cheese omelette, baguette and croissants with coffee in a random Parisian bistro. We found one near the Opera house, but all the ones we checked around seemed to have a similar menu. And I must say, despite being extremely touristy, it was great! Paris is a place where you shouldn’t be scared of something aimed on tourists only, foodwise at least. There are more places we discovered and I marked for brunch for the next visit, so maybe someone will try them out before me: Peonies, Season, Marcelle, Dersou.
  • Breakfast follows with lunch/dinner must-eats. The famous truffle pasta at Pink Mamma! I have eaten tens of truffle pastas in life, but that one was definitely the best! This gourmet group is in general always a good choice. La Felicità is another cool location with great ambient that many Paris experts advised me already. And not just the food is delicious at their restaurants, also the buildings and the rooms themselves are a treasure. 100% instagrammable 😉
  • Finding an absolutely perfect place for dinner was a challenge for me. A lot of recognised restaurants don’t have websites, don’t reserve and just don’t want to communicate, don’t have menus in English. Google research and platforms like tripadvisor don’t help much there either, so I went through some blogs and came across Chez la Vieille. It’s a place you never enter seeing from the outside: tiny door, no light on the ground floor, no spectacular signboards. Even the name is written with chalk, no kidding. And this was exactly a place I was looking for. The best foie gras way of serving I’ve tried, fine wines, intimate atmosphere (for some maybe even too intimate, the tables are no more than 10cm away from each other). Was the finest kick-off into Parisian food experience!
  • Another hidden treasure you are not likely to come across, that was recommended to me is Le Mary Celeste. Compromise prices on something I consider haute cuisine. We tried their tartar and pulled duck on brioche, and I think my stomach cried from pleasure. The bar itself is charming, too, but downstairs is one of those hidden places that might become your favourite if you live in the neighbourhood.
  • When in France, my main desires are snails, foie gras, beef tartar and their sandwiches of any kind. It’s not easy to find a fancy place that has all of this on the menu, because usually fancy places have only 5-7 things on the menu in general. So sometimes a proper classy French bistro is the easiest choice, especially for a larger group of people. We had our finest snails and sandwiches at Cafe Charlot, but I remember having visited a lot of restaurants of this kind during my previous visits to Paris, and I was always satisfied. Depends on what one is searching for, but if you are fine with very crowded, loud, smelly with food places and don’t care how fancy the ambient is – you may have one of the best dining experiences at one of those, so I’d say: don’t just follow the planned route of gourmet trouvailles, be spontaneous and enter any bistro that has a table available! We enjoyed sitting outside enjoying some wine on Montorgueil street: a loud, popular among tourists and younger locals, crowded area with a lot of places to chose from. Here we slowly shift from dinner to bars.
  • Experimental Cocktail Club: around the corner from the above mentioned street. A fun bar, like one of those I go to in Vienna. Young charming barkeepers, delicious nicely garnished experimental cocktails, cute couples squeezed around large groups of party people. There you easily find some adventure!
  • Again hidden, in fact, completely hidden: Candelaria. You have to go through the fast-food place that sells tacos and margaritas and confidently push a tiny disguised white door where the kitchen is. And you find yourself in an amazing bar! I have been in a lot of hidden bars, the concept of exclusivity has become a big deal in the past years. But those places are usually posh, people visiting them want to feel way too exclusive and sometimes it gets ridiculous. It’s not about Candelaria. Here you just feel like you have come to a friend’s house party. If we didn’t have so little time in Paris and weren’t therefore on a bar tour, I’d easily spend all night in that cozy bar full of tacos and people who all seemed to know each other.
  • Clown bar is found right in the circus and has one of the coolest old-school designs.  The food looked delicious, but we were already waiting for our table at le Mary Celeste, so this one remains a goal for the next visit 😉
  • Street crepes. Call it cheesy (they ARE cheesy! and I don’t know what cheese they put inside, but I wanna drown on it), call it tourists attraction, but those things are damn good! A perfect ending for a night out.

Other than eating non-stop (even though I am not even sure if anything other than that is needed in Paris), January is a great time for shopping: sales but less tourists. I discovered the area around Rue Vieille du Temple this time. Haven’t been much around the 3rd district before because most of the time my routes were built around some tourist sights. This district is a very nice place for walking, shopping and chilling in some cafe with a terrace. Won’t even start with Parisian shopping, you probably know it all. If you don’t, you will.

Most of attractions like museums, cathedrals, palaces, castles, viewing points, gardens and whatever else there is in Paris I had already visited before, so we took it easy with the cultural side. We went to Musee de l’Orangerie though, and it is spectacular! We expected a small room with 2-3 Monet paintings, but there is an entire palace of Monet! I’ve seen so much that though nothing new can be there, and it was a new Monet level. Other paintings it contains are also Paris-museum-level valuable and a pleasure to the eye, so I highly recommend the museum. A free entrance everywhere in Paris for European students is also quite motivating, thank you, Paris!

Hoping to be back sooner than it took me since my last visit! Paris, je t’aime! 

 


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Korea, part I: Impressions

Снимок экрана 2018-10-25 в 11.41.28Korea. A land of obscure things in your plate, ironed cotton and upturned rooftops reflected in skyscrapers. It was the land that left me with complex impressions, few new things I comprehended and a lot to remember.

My acquaintance with Asia started in Hong Kong two years ago. I haven’t seen much of that part of Earth yet, but I feel like Korea brought me many steps closer to comprehending eastern cultural differences and their roots.

To make it clear from the beginning, my impressions of Korea will be based on what I saw in Seoul and Songdo. The country developed and changed so rapidly that I am sure there are parts of it that differ gradually. In this first part, I will try to focus on feelings the Koreans rather than landscapes gave me, not forgetting those concrete jungle of new Seoul that are important for understanding the nation, too. I decided to break the story into 2 parts, where this beginning will be more abstract and contain mostly my thoughts and observations, whereas the second part will be more about specifics places I recommend to visit and pictures.

So, let me start with what shocked me the most:

Cleanliness. It’s surgery room clean everywhere. What is shocking is not people taking care of their home (where I hope most of developed countries are already getting by now), but a total absence of trash bins. There are just none on the streets and in shops. I am not exactly sure why, since this is not a country with high terrorist threat which could be a reason for eliminating trash bins. Neither am I sure where all the trash goes. It wouldn’t ever come to any Korean mind to drop anything on the floor, but what they do when they have some trash in their hands and whether they simply carry it home – I didn’t find out. I had a clutch full of packages, bills and tickets all the time.

You can’t smoke on the streets either, there is a fine for that and you wouldn’t see anyone with a cigarette. Smokers go to smaller empty streets not to disturb by-passers with smoke and smell, even if there is no police on the horizon.

Fashion. Of course everyone nowadays knows that Korea is about to lead the world of fashion on Earth. It’s not only how good people are dressed in their simplicity what astonished me, but how natural it goes in Korea. No fancy boutiques with golden stairs, no “high class” brands (I mean of course there are luxury goods from the west, but Korean things are all quite within the same niche), no flashy shop windows and model-looking sells managers: all simple and minimalistic. I loved how they sell. Everything I ever learnt about marketing during my studies or in my girly life full of brands would be completely useless pieces of information in Korea. Some might say they don’t know how to sell and attract customers. I can’t tell, not knowing whether the shops that charmed me were considered successful or not. But I fell in love with their absence of marketing in our understanding. The well-known all over the world brands like Stylenanda, for example, adopted the western ways of advertising. But most of the best fabrics and finest styles are to be found in underground crossings (no kidding) or very humble tiny shops with empty walls and simple or no decorations. It’s relatively cheap for the quality. I bought cotton blouses of amazing quality for 5 Euros each. Either this accessibility makes the crowd looks good, or Koreans have a natural feeling for style. I loved watching people in subway and on the streets, how simple and elegant they are. Sometimes you look at a girl (or a guy as well!) wearing a white cotton robe and think: “Maaaan, in Vienna you would be a fashion icon!”

Another bit shocking thing: very often you can’t try things on. It’s a rule in really many shops. You can touch it, examine it, but you can’t try it on. I am not sure how to explain that, since when you buy something you always get a new packed and sealed piece from the stock, they never wrap you that thing you saw on the hanger. Maybe it’s some hygienic reasons, Koreans are quite determined with those.

Beauty. Well, this blew my mind even though it was extremely ready to be blown. It’s not just the most developed beauty and care products industry culture in the world, its a real cult. There is a wide range of any product for anything you can and can’t imagine. But be careful when beauty-shopping, our unspoiled mind tells us to grab every cute package, in fact half of them are not very useful. In the next post with recommendations, I’ll note a few shops and brands worth checking out 😉 Also, a lot of products have whitening effect. Koreans are crazier than 18th century aristocrats about not getting a slight sign of tan on their skin. Which is not that easy since the climate is quite sunny, so there are all variations of whitening napkins and creams in any tiny store.

What I found a bit weird is that most of products are for face skin. Ok, Korean girls have good strong hair and might not need much care for it, but why is there so little for the body? Europe is more crazy about body lotions, shower gels, mists and sprays. You also won’t find any Lush-like stuff like bath bombs, most likely because Koreans don’t have bathtubs. But they have toilets that maintain the seat warmed up for you.

What is also quite shocking for a western person is men wearing make-up. I mean, we accept it fine if its just a style of a certain guy or some event like Life Ball. But in Korea really a lot of guys wear quite visible makeup on a daily basis.

Beaches. To continue with the whitening topic. Koreans don’t go to beaches at all, I guessed for obvious from the paragraph above reasons – a desire to be white. Completely empty sea lines shock a European that had ever been to Barceloneta or on Italian coast in summer, where you can hardly see the sand. The most beautiful beaches of Jeju don’t attract the locals at all. Policemen wear uniforms with long sleeve under a short-sleeve shirt, not to get tanned I was told. So, my skin tone is not considered noble or fashionable in any way I guess.

Eating and drinking culture. Their complexity, to be more precise. From the technical side, i.e. metal chopsticks that even kids can cut kimchi with (guys, it’s impossible, I am telling you) to the dishes themselves. Korean cuisine is very interesting, unusual, rich in various flavors we can’t even imagine together! I will write a separate post on my favorite foodie topic, of course. But I’d just advise to be curious and brace and to try things, even though most of the time you will have no clue what you are eating. No English and no pictures on menus. Forget about consulting waiters as well. Just forget about English and life will become easier if you try other ways.

Streets never sleep. Seoul is so dynamic, with people in expensive suits walking Gangnam with serious faces; everything running, pizza being delivered even to parks at any time, that it comes as no surprise that there is a very intense nightlife. But, guys, I have never seen anything THIS intense, and I used to be quite a party animal. Going out is another cult. Teenagers are out all the time. I don’t know how they manage to combine that with Korean schooling which is one of the toughest in the world, this I didn’t put together yet. But clubs of Itaewon seem to never shut the music down. We were leaving at 6, 7 in the morning, and the party didn’t even start to calm down. You can drink pretty much anywhere, we enjoyed our soju from the bottle already at the supermarket. Walking with a bottle through party streets is fine, no paper bags and crap needed to cover up the obvious. And it’s just fun! People run from one club to another, socialize on the streets, everyone is super friendly, we as foreigners attracted A LOT of attention, but I didn’t see any typical drunk aggression once. Which is also a mystery to me since Koreans do get quite drunk and not everyone can take as much alcohol as a huge Scandinavian guy can, for example, but they still don’t give up. Drunk people are drunk people all across the globe I would think, but I didn’t see any fights, rudeness or harassment. A guy may try to get your attention, I got grabbed by my elbow few times, but if you look away and don’t express interest they leave you alone immediately.

I will write more about specific clubs and areas that I liked the most, but in general I wanna say that I was fascinated and shocked by Seoul nightlife. No Ibiza compares. It’s madness and it’s a must-experience in life!

No pin on credit cards. And the general highest level of social trust. Doesn’t matter what your bank is, you don’t insert pin, sign or show documents when you pay. If your card is lost it will be either returned to you or destroyed. You can leave your personal belongings anywhere and just leave. People occupy tables in restaurants leaving their cell phones, no kidding! I don’t know if they don’t steal at all and the crime rate is so low because of the regime, their values or cameras everywhere. But as a matter of fact, in Korea you don’t have to watch your purse.

Convenience. Putting stuff away in bars, clubs and restaurants – there is always somewhere to place it no matter how tiny the place is: puffs and seats which open up, boxes above your head, storage beneath tables. If you give something to garderobe in clubs, it’s gonna be wrapped in disposable bags.

Convenient packages for literally everything, from snacks (unwrapping a gimbap is a pure pleasure) and napkins at a supermarket to newly purchased accessories. Everything is thought out.

Social pressure. It’s very high. You have to meet the standards if you are Korean.

Schools are tough. Getting into universities is the highest pressure for Korean teenagers. If you don’t get in – your life is considered a failure. The suicide rate among school kids is high, so are the expectations of their performance.

You have to be skinny, so Korean girls starve themselves a lot. Have to look good in a certain universal way, that’s why makeup industry is so developed, and Korea is famous for its plastic surgeries on each corner. If a girl doesn’t fit into that standardized beauty image, she is not considered pretty. Fashion wise people try to stand out (still keeping up with the mass trends), but it didn’t seem to me as if being of extraordinary non-standard appearance will make you beautiful and unique in the eyes of the others. They admire Western appearance a lot.

Dating culture is quite weird, too. You have to have a partner. I heard stories how cab drivers were immediately trying to set guys up with their nieces when they heard guys were single, it was not normal for them and they felt like they have to help. A lot of dating clubs, apps, platforms and stuff. It seems like everyone dates just because it’s a must, I really hope the reality is different.

There are many more things that seemed obligatory in society to me, like you have to have that little white dog everyone has, etc. Koreans are constantly under high pressure, but they respect their traditions and values a lot, which makes them such a strong independent and solid society.

Some tough sides and a piece of advice for a foreigner:

  • Forget English. Better learn a few phrases in Korean, they are going to respect you a lot for that.
  • No cabs available in clubbing districts at nighttime. After 3 a.m. it’s really not easy to get out of there. Such Russian thing as all cab drivers gathering around crowded places tripling fares you won’t see. So we had to walk few times.
  • People are gonna look at you. Especially if you differ gradually from their appearance. Just accept it, they are all very kind and friendly, but they express interest a lot.
  • No heels in clubs outside Gangnam. It would just look weird. Korean girls wear very simple comfy shoes.
  • Try transportation apps. It’s very complicated since everything is in Korean only, but if you somehow manage – you are gonna love the ideal effective transportation system around Seoul!
  • Walk slowly in temples. It’s considered disrespectful to rush there. You can also rent traditional Korean costumes and then be admitted for free into any temple.
  • Don’t sit on seats designed for older people or individuals with limited abilities. Even if the train is empty, nobody does that unless they belong to the group for which that seat is designed.

Be respectful to everyone and you will get enormous respect and hospitality back. It is an incredible country that takes you on a trip to the past and to the future at the same time.