The question I am asked about Paris the most is its restaurants – which could be a reflection of my image, or of my taste in friends, anyhow too late to change both. I am not home as often as I would like to be, and when I am here, I do my best to enjoy the city, to celebrate that I, even largely theoretically, live here, – and eating out is a big part of it. (There are also periods in my life when cooking at home simply makes no sense, because most of the things I buy over the weekend do not survive until my next culinary attempt.) So I have put together my top favorites in Paris, for you to savour.
This Monday marks the beginning of the last full-blown week of summer. Next Friday autumn officially kicks in. (Can you believe?!) It was a great summer for me. I was blessed with a chance to swim in the waters of Greece, Tunis, Adriatic Sea (Croatia and Montenegro) and, just a few weeks ago, at the feet of the Korean peninsula, in the strait of the Pacific Ocean between the Sea of Eastern China and the Japanese Sea. Idly laying on the beach, listening to the music of the waves, playing with sand and breathing in, greedily, the salty breeze, I was contemplating the ranking. Mediterranean Sea, to me, will always be the best. And the bingo on available flights, amazing food, scenery of all kinds and – relatively, depending on the island! – relatively sane prices is Greece.
Here goes to this summer paradise – #travelhacks to Kithyra. Most can be applied to pretty much any other Greek island with understandable exception of Mykonos and Santorini.
A promised sequence of Tunis: The (Obvious) Great Things: The (Hidden) Gems. The hidden gems of Tunis are its restaurants (at least, three of its restaurants) and the biggest mosaics museum in the world, Le Bardo.
The surprising fact is that restaurants are not a big part of the Tunisian culture (coffee shops, on the contrary, are). Food is big in Tunis but people mostly eat at home, cook at home, buy already prepared delights for home and entertain at home. An exception to that are sandwich shops, which are many, (apparently) delicious and as diverse as a sandwich shop can be. That’s why I have marveled that much at Dar El Jed, Fondouk El Attarine and The Cliff.
The first thing that the mind links with Tunisia is the sea. This post is not about it. Well, not exactly. The sea has been been such a great power in the country’s history, culture and soul that Tunisia is unthinkable without the sea. This post is about the the capital, Tunis. I have decided to split it into two parts: The (Obvious) Great Things and The (Hidden) Gems.
The things Tunis is best known for are Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and The Souks. Why talking about them if they are so well-known? They are still stunning.
As I was saying in my post on Caminito, Buenos Aires is not the most beautiful city on Earth. In fact, when, inspired by the stunning views of Rio, we asked the hotel concierge what the best place to get a panoramic view of the city would be, he was truly puzzled. Unable to get a meaningful answer, we have soon discovered that the best place to see the city is, in fact, our hotel room at the Park Tower Hotel. That’s why I am sort of overusing different versions of this picture in my posts on the Argentinian capital.
For instance, that’s what you get during the day time.
So Buenos Aires is almost the opposite of Rio. The comparison, however, runs in the opposite sense as well: the Argentinian capital is everything Rio is not, too. For starters, it is not dangerous: an 8 year-old with a gun asking you to hand him over your money and your passport (true story) stays in Brazil. You see people wearing jewellery, expensive watches, branded sunglasses and they are fine. That’s refreshing after Rio. What you also feel right away is a different level of life sophistication. Buenos Aires has it all for a good life: truly great restaurants, art markets, Miami-like neighbourhoods with hipster cafes, endless parks and classic and contemporary museums with the world’s finest collections. It opens up a totally new perspective on a daily life in Latin America, making you feel at home, but with a twist of tropical set up.
Nothing illustrates Buenos Aires better than this modern-slash-art-deco building, tucked between the classic European style baroque houses and a splurge of posh green.
Unlike Rio, with key monuments far from each other and unreachable by foot (well, unless you have a lot of time and have been practising for this trip), the best way to discover Buenos Aires is by foot. Like a European city. You take a map and wander through the neighbourhoods of Palermo (for trendy places and posh meals), Puerto Madero (for modern skyscrapers), San Telmo (for a whisper of history and an artisan market), Microcentro (for the business vibe) and Belgrano (for a taste of upper-middle class Argentinian life). The only place that might require a taxi ride is La Boca, where the Caminito is: theoretically, you can get there by foot but the way is not that spectacular and you would be better off spending this time over some delicious lunch at Palermo or an art hunt at San Telmo.
Here is a hand pick of famous spots of the Argentinian capital. Make sure you stop by Floralis Genérica, The Steel Flower of Buenos Aires, which is designed to open and close its petals in rhythm with the Sun. You too, try to catch the rhyme of the Argentinian capital and move in the unison with it.
The year I was turning 30 I had no regrets but one: not having some extra 2-3 years to live in Brazil. 20s are great for many things and freedom of flirting with cities, cultures and possibilities, is one of them. 30s, at least in my head, are more a time for responsible decisions: decisions that shape your future. I could, of course, live everywhere I wanted, but the costs now were too high: trading off post-MBA job options, throwing away some precious years of EU residence track (yet again). So I did not go live in Rio. We call is strategy. And, sometimes, discipline. The dreams though continue to live inside of us, showing us images, calling us to places. For me, Rio was such a dream. And if I could not live there, at the very least I could visit.
Rio was the main goal of our spontaneous trip to Latin America with Louveteau. It was everything I dreamt about and more. Rio is so many different things. It is very rough but very true. Very green and very psychotic in terms of the weather. It is the city of contrasts: posh houses of the last wave of economic success next to favelas, homes of no one, which officially do not even exist. One moment it is sunny, with music, laughter everywhere and life flowing to the beach, and then suddenly there is a thunderstorm, a pouring rain, and the city is completely deserted. People of Rio are like that, as well. Many don’t have much but offer a lot, and many take what (they think) is their by the law which precedes any civilized legal system.
I could write volumes on Rio, and yet it would not be enough to convey all of its faces, its moods and its magic. You should probably be born in Rio to breathe in unison with it. As its guest, you could only go as far as falling in love with it.
So, falling in love with Rio is not really an option. What about handling it?
Rio was a rare case, for me in the last years, of well researching a place before going there. I read tourist guides, forums, blogs. I asked around. In the end, I had a hand selection of things I wanted to do: those that were ranked top by millions of people I have never met and a few recommended by friends whose opinion I trusted. Here is what I picked from all this.
I wanted to explore Berlin as long as I know Anastasia. Which is, let me think…, for almost ten years. To breathe its liberal air, wander its rough historic streets and go to all the posh restaurants, bars and clubs she was describing when calling me to Helsinki. More than ten years and around the same number of countries ago for both of us. Back in the days Skype did not exist and to call abroad you had to dial a 10+ digit number, and then the number you were calling to. Remember?! Let me rewind. I wanted to explore Berlin with Anastasia. Because no one knows this city like she does.
I almost never talk about London but it is a big chapter of my life. I lived there for, in total, about two years. I walked the kilometres of its streets, indulged in its senses, breathed it, enjoyed it, loved it. Then I left, and with an exception of a short stint for an interview with Shell during my INSEAD year, did not come back until now, seven years after. A month ago, Louveteau and I went to London to celebrate his birthday. And just for the weekend in London, quoi. It was a good opportunity for me to reconnect with my memories of the British capital and to reflect on the aftermath of this city’s magic on me.
London has shaped me in many ways. The education I got there might not be the most relevant for my career (well, actually, you never know with education: something learnt a decade ago can suddenly come handy. Actually, that’s what usually happens.) However, the experiences I got there, the risks I took and the decisions I made, good and bad, affected many of my life choices. Maybe that’s why it seems very important to me to resurrect my time in London.
Writing this chapter took me some time. Impressions fade over years, memories are getting replaced sooner than we realize it. London, however, stays with me in many ways, more than I probably know of.
When addresses, places, shows and fireworks leave the memory, when things, once precious, are worn out and thrown away, something inside, something forged by the dialogue with the city, by its gifts and the sacrifices it demands, by its generosity, its history, its magic, – this intangible something stays.
So I took my time to go through my first notes about London from as far as seven years ago, to reconstruct my first impressions, feelings about London, to breathe in my past. To cherish it.
My post about Lisbon would not be complete without a separate (and passionate) passage about the Portuguese capital’s food, full of lust and temptations. It is a delight to all senses, sure, but not always an obvious one. It took me and Sophie quiet some time to figure out the whereabouts of some of these places, so to save you some time for Lisbon bliss, here is our list. A word of wisdom: check out the restaurant’s web page to see if the place still exists before going there. Even some of the New York Times’ relatively recent choices ceased to exist when we get to them.
Here is an altitude view of Côte d’Azur. It probably is the best airplane picture I have taken.
Below lies Nice. Enchanting, captivating, quiet, magical and mysterious, under a sparkling carpet of lights, from here Nice is probably at its best. Back in the days when Côte d’Azur was my dream destination, I pictured it somewhat like that.
The real Nice, however, is far from all that. If a notion of mass tourism is applied to the South of France, Nice is the most touristic of all the coastline cities: airport taxi at 35 EUR (not to mention the buses) provides quiet an easy access to everyone lured by the glamour of Côte d’Azur. Proximity to the airport and, relatively to the next door Cannes and Monaco, high population and some historical heritage, attracts crowds and all that comes with them: construction boom of experimental architecture of 80s-90s, multilingual restaurants with long menu in pictures and high density on the narrow pebble beach stripe. That’s not to say that Nice is not worth its fame: the sea is still there and it captures imagination (and hearts) as soon as the plane lands on what seems to be from the window a water surface. Personally, I prefer small cities like Menton close to the Italian border or Eze village on the way to Monaco but occasionally give in to the allure of Nice or Cannes.