Thursday, April 23, 2009

Roman times

I've lived in Rome for seven years and although I loved it, I dreamt to expatriate. Dream caused by both my passion for everything "foreign" and our political class.

I left Italy four years ago and every time I happen in the
Urbe I'm overwhelmed by a wave of memories. And not just the ice cream "ritual" I talked about in one of my recent articles.

The student's life in Rome really is something worthy. For some two years I crossed Saint Peter's Square every day walking from home to uni, and every time I turned to have a look at the
Basilica dominating the place. Sometimes even thinking that it's such a shame that the whole complex of buildings is not available for visiting as the highest offices of the Catholic clergy live there as Vatican citizens.

I've never found quite appealing the Catholic message, and sometimes living only a few minutes from the Holy See was a bit too intense, let alone during the Jubilee celebrations in 2000.

If we consider the heart of Rome the bit from Vatican City to Termini Station, we can say that representatives of both spiritual and temporal powers are pretty much neighbours. Any clashes? I wouldn't say so: although the Italian media like to report the rows between the two, I think the pope has always the last word. In 2002 pope John Paul II made a speech in the Parliament with both chambers united: he managed to gather the highest level of presence of the previous (and probably following) decade.

On the other side of the Tiber, walking through
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Piazza Navona, Corso Rinascimento, Pantheon, Piazza Montecitorio, and Via del Corso you might stumble across some white collars (few actually), rushing to the Parliament, with some good ideas on how to make Italy a better place to live (or to come back to).

What about celebrities? Plenty, especially in
Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna, maybe coming down from the popular steps of Trinità dei Monti. I've managed to meet a considerable range of actors, singers, comedians, both Italian and international. They don't travel in Vespa anymore though, as used Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

During my university years I even went to Martin Scorsese "Gangs of New York" set, which was in Cinecittà, but no Leonardo Di Caprio nor Cameron Diaz, nor Daniel Day Lewis at that time.

Apart from the political mess (and sometimes the Italian mentality), the city seems aware of its charm and is a hub of creativity, art, talents and heritage sites.

The best place to get inspired: as simple as that.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Five Commandments of Hi Sushi

Soho, off Oxford Street in Central London, is very popular on the weekend. Studded with small and big clubs, fluorescent lights and any kind of amusement, it's one of the most famous meccas for Londoners. Whatever you can expect from a weekend, you'll find it in Soho, from gold diggers to businessmen looking for new experiences, from dance music clubs to pizza restaurants.

One of my favourite activities in Soho, so far, has been to stuff myself with sushi. I love any kind of raw fish, taken alone or rolled in steamed rice with ginger, soya sauce and fancy matching of sesame seeds, cucumber or avocado.

The restaurant I usually go to is Hi Sushi, in Frith Street, and it doesn't offer only sushi, but a great range of japanese noodles, soups and fried dishes at very reasonable prices.
However, since I've somehow become addicted to sushi and sashimi (for sushi virgins, sashimi is just the raw fish without rice), my commitment to that cosy japanese spot is for their buffet, available only on the evening during the week and lunchtime on Sunday.

The deal is that with less than 15 pounds you have unlimited sushi and a choice of eight other delicatessen, ranging from miso soup, tempura and any kind of fried fish or vegetable. For sushi lovers like me, this is heaven.

I went there with some friends, happy to get closer to the sweet sight of the colorful dish when, after our order, the young samurai announced impassive: "No tasting, no sharing".
"I beg your pardon?", I mutter shily still deciding whether to be amazed or amused. "She ordered the noodles", attacked the stalwart waiter, "she cannot taste your sushi".

One of my friends laughed shamelessly out loud at the samurai’s face, the other one tried to cover her mouth but a chortle managed to leak out. As for myself, I was speechless.

And then we learned about the existence of an appendix on the table with the Five Commandments of the Evening Buffet. Among the funniest ones:
1. No tasting, no sharing

2. Buffet is not take away

3. You will be charged five pounds for any waste

4. You will be charged five pounds if you talk too loud (ok, I made this up...)

Feeling guilty for something I had not done yet, I started tackling my sushi with less enjoyment. The food is nice, the place is cosy, but strict rules even at a restaurant is really too much.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Boarding time

I love travelling. Over the past couple of years I've travelled through Europe and South America careless of jet legs and time zones. I don't remember how many times I took the plane and I remember even less how many times the flight was on time. "We are waiting for the crew, the plane had some technical problem, the weather is very bad": airlines trying to keep passengers calm, passengers trying to kill time with books, crosswords, sudoku or just sleeping.

The first thing I do once at the airport, I check which area, and especially which queue is waiting for me at the check-in. After surviving the check-in and dropping baggages (kilos in excess included), I head towards my gate, so that I have some chances to find a seat.

After half an hour I double-check that I'm waiting in the right place and I find out that mine is not purely excess of zeal but real sixth sense: my gate is not A25 anymore but A67, which happens to be at the exact opposite side of the airport. Swearing in every language, I rush through the place, watching every screen to make sure the gate is still A67, every sign to make sure I'm taking the right direction and trying not to walk over children, bags, suitcases and trash bins.

I finally reach, breathless, the longed spot and I promise to myself that I would never take Ryanair again.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter in London

Ok, I have to say, I'm not a big fan of the reckless UK liberal economy and quite often I feel there is no State when it comes to protect people's interest from corporations' search for profit.

But when it comes to mixing cultures, meltin' pot, multiculturalism and multi-ethnic, few places are like London, and in festivities like Easter all becomes clearer.

In Italy Catholic celebrations are a must, I can't imagine an open shop on Easter, let alone Christmas day (unlike in Ireland, airports are open and public transport works, though..).

We live in a globalized world, where national borders are becoming blurry and cultures are mixing up more frequently and quickly than ever, and it's nice to see that everybody can choose how to live their favourite anniversaries as they like.

Londoners are offered with one of the widest range of lifestyles, from the ultra-modern to the zen-type, from the meditative to the sporty, travelling to Asia, Africa, South America with the means provided by ethnic restaurants, "slow food" markets or foreign festivals.

Contradictions and negative aspects are inevitable, one of the worst ones being high prices for goods and services alike, but seeing how cultures and traditions from around world meet and blend with each other is worth a couple of years stay in the UK capital.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Iguaçu, see and experience the largest waterfalls in the world

Your journey in pursuit of the most memorable emotion ends in South Brazil. Because around the town of Foz do Iguaçu it’s all a matter of emotions. The stunning view of the Iguaçu waterfalls will seize your imagination and stay impressed in your memory long after your visit.

I have to admit, when I went to Iguaçu I was waterfall-virgin, I had never seen seen a waterfall before, not even a local small rivulet running down a rock. No wonder why then I was so enthusiastic at the idea to see my first real waterfalls.
Although my expectations were already remarkable, however, the natural phenomenon I was about to stare at went far beyond my imagination.

Coming from Italy, I’m used to beautiful architecture and all sort of artistic expressions, but at the Iguassu Waterfalls you face directly the majesty of nature, without men's intervention. As soon as we got off the plane, we were welcomed by a colorful band of local drummers and samba dancers and driven to our hotel. To fully enjoy the spectacular waterfalls, we booked a two-day tour, the first to be spent on the Brazilian, to have a more complete overview of the scene, and the second one from Argentina, “to experience the waterfalls,” as Arlindo, our local guide, proudly told us.

Getting up at 7am is not exactly what I mean by “holiday,” but our bus gave us appointment at 8am at the hotel reception, and no delay was allowed. The day was about to kick off and I was ready to make to most of every single moment. Both from the plane, when we were approaching Foz do Iguaçu airport, and from the bus while reaching the longed spot, we managed to steal a brief, introductory glimpse of what we were about to admire from all perspectives, making the overall thrill rise.

When we finally arrived, it took us only a moment to realize that the spectacle was by all means up to the expectation.
Over 60,000 cubic meters of roaring water fall over an enormous canyon ever
y second. The waterfalls elegantly stand there, aware of their gigantic and powerful beauty, in a spectacle of colors, lights and reflections. I started wondering about everything, for the first time really conscious of how the mankind is powerless in front of the forces of nature.

Despite the many tou
rists walking and analyzing the waterfalls from every corner, all I could hear was the sound of the water crashing against the rock. During the tour on the Brazilian side we jumped on a boat and got near the waterfalls. “Keep a weather eye on your cameras, they might get wet,” said the pilot. You bet they did, we ended up right under the most violent flow of water I had ever seen and all I could hear was screaming tourists along with the sensation of cold water coming through the flaws of my ki-wai. Needless to say, at the end of the boat tour we were soaked.

They say that on the Brazilian side "you see" the waterfalls, while in the Argentinian one "you experience them." As far as I was concerned, I had already "experienced" enough, and I didn't quite catch what they meant. The following day we were on the Argentinian side and, although we didn't go underneath the flood, we managed to get very close, we could almost touch the water and feel its power.

The organization for tourists was impressi
ve, with themed trains traveling inside the forest, guides showing us the local flora and fauna and shops, restaurants and facilities around every corner. I must confess, I love Brazil, so I was already "biased," but I think the natural bliss of Brazilian people have added charm to Mother Nature's job.
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