Colmar: immensely beautiful

Very often, when you are looking through the photos of a place you want to visit, they appear a bit brighter than the place itself when you finally there. Photographers use filters and sophisticated means to make their works if not a piece of art but at least simply look better. I cannot argue, their works are catchy, but sometimes too far away from reality. In that sense, Colmar is exactly the same as when you see it on all the artistic pictures. It is bright and beautiful without any filters and colors’ amplification. Blossoming flowers, sweet gingerbread houses and lively channels… Total awesomeness!

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Cuba. Part 5: About peculiarities and specialties

The last post in this series. Cuba was indeed amazing and this part is about some things that I found very special, sometimes awkward or fascinating…

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Signs for a casa

Remember, when you are searching for a place to stay, you can easily spot them by the sign like the one below on the photo. The color of the sign show what type of casa is that: blue – for tourists, red – for locals.

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Fairytale Gent

During our last weekend in Belgium we decided to go to Gent instead of Bruges and didn’t regret it at all. Gent is literally stunning: big old city area, cobblestone streets, dark-red tiled roofs… You breath the history in every corner. Less words, more pictures…

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Iran: prepare for your trip. Part 1: about visa, money, transport and language

Visa

  • Until the very last moment we were doubting if we had to apply for a visa in advance in Berlin or not. We decided against it. In fact, to get a visa on arrival was very easy. Our flight landed in Tehran at 2 o’clock at night and we didn’t have to wait in a line. We submitted our documents to a visa counter (a filled out form and passports, no photo) and were told to wait.

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Yet undiscovered Iran… Intro

Iran… A trip over Silvester to Iran. Why not? Let’s start by dispelling some popular myths.

– Unsafe? (this question was asked by 95% of my friends)
– Not true, according to a risk map Iran is even safer than my homeland. Don’t mix Iran with its neighbour country similar in sound – Iraq. Besides, according to our own feelings, Iran is safe enough, safe as any other country: it means, you should watch your belongings and not yawn around. Though, traffic is hectic.

– Not so interesting…
– Nonsence! Iran is a part of  former ancient Persia, culture that is more than 3000 years old. Persians and Iranians definitely have a lot to reveal. Frankly speaking, we were surprised and fascinated…

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– I can’t go there, I have to wear hidjab the whole time…
– Partly true, but don’t confuse hijab (a scarf that leaves a lot of hair open) and chador (a mantle covering your whole body and a head). Chador is required only when you want to the mosques where the service is ongoing.

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– I don’t speak Farsi and they don’t speak English. This will be extremely difficult to explain what you want!
– They speak bad English, indeed. But Iranians are very hospitable, healpful and customer oriented. Couple English words, a lot of signs and active gesticulation – you will find your way through Iran.

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– We are dating and not married. I heard that iranians will look strangely at us when we ask for a double suite.
– Perhaps, they have second thoughts in their heads, but no one has said something against our request to stay in one room overnight.

-They don’t celebrate Silvester as they do it in Europe!
-True. They have a New year party in March. But even in the end of December you can find some fireworks and garlands to create suitable mood. A possibility to start a firework on a rooftop of one of the traditional houses is priceless.

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Rich culture, fascinating mosques and historical places, pleasant temperatures, absence of tourist crowds (and touristic prices as a result), delicious food, hospitable and welcoming people, very acceptable prices (especially in the low-season), good transport connections between the cities, purity of goods and products … All this makes Iran a very attractive and not yet widely discovered travel destination.

…to be continued in more detail.

Benvenuti a Napoli

A weekend trip to the south of Italy. Naples is absolutely worth it. Less words, more photos. The essense in 5 abstracts.

  1. The best view to the city is from the viewing point in the medieval Castle Sant’Elmo that is situated in the uptowm (you can reach it with one of three funiculars).
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    From above you can see the island Capri as well (the one to the right).
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    The castle itself has a light oriental fleur…
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  2. Naples is the homeland of Pizza. Indeed, delicious. To our astonishment, the places with the best rating on the Tripadvisor were takeaways. The line in front of them was impressing.
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    A surpise for me was the revellation that Rum Baba (ромовая баба) so loved by Russians is a typical italian sweet.
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  3. Pompeii. Easy to reach with a train from Naples Central station. Be aware that the last admittance to the site is 15 o’clock, closure time – 17 o’clock. Probably, because of the absence of artificial backlight. You will need around 2-3 hours to walk through the area.
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    It you want to combine the trip with the mount Vesuvius, leave Naples early in the morning. The last bus from Pompeii to Vesuvius goes at about 14 o’clock. The one-way ride lasts 50 minutes.
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  4. The stories about thievery are true. Keep your belongings close to you and watch out. Especially during the pre-Christmas time. The streets in the old city are incredibly full with tourists and locals. Here you can find anything you want for your home decoration.
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  5. The city is eclectic, buzzy and still very attractive. Narrow streets and vivid atmosphere, stuff of all types sold on every corner, emotionalб loud and cheerful italians. Unforgettable. Repeatable.
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Paris, Paris… Cliché and hidden gems.

Third time in Paris. Almost all cliché highlights already seen. Several to be visited again: you can’t just avoid it – being in Paris and not seeing the Notre Dame de Paris or Eiffel tower. To climb it or not is another question. In addition to these overwhelming-touristy must-see places we included couple of “hidden gems” in our list and even succeed to find them.

La Pagode.

An old movie theater (that is still working), built in 1896, that looks like Japanese pagoda surrounded by the bamboo garden.
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Quiet, cozy, close to the Musée de l’Armée. A place to take a little break and picturesque photos before heading to the Eiffel Tower.
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Rue Cremieux.

A colorful paradise in the very heart of the city (close to Gare de Lyon train station). Pastel colored houses and shutters, almost no people around, very clean and intimate little street called Rue Cremieux…

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Rue Dauphine.

A lively bustling street leading to the river Seine. Lots of restaurants, cafes, small shops where you could either enjoy a good meal or buy a little treat to go and eat it at the bank of the river.

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If you took a bottle of wine with you and want to enjoy a little picnic in a public place (indeed, what can be more romantic to have a glass of wine with fine cheese watching the waters of Seine and breathing clear autumn air), be careful: French police is inconsistent in application of rules when it comes to alcohol. A nice description of drinking and non-drinking places in Paris you can find here: http://www.myfrenchlife.org/2012/06/15/france-paris-rules-on-drinking-in-public-places/

Montparnasse Tower.

The line to climb the Eiffel tower is always endless (but gets shorter at night, closer to 10 pm), and I doubt if it is worth it to wait so long. The view to the Eiffel Tower and not from it is amazing at night. So you better take a metro to the Tour Montparnasse and an elevator to the 56th floor to appreciate a panoramic view of Paris. A ticket costs around 15 Euro (same price as to Louvre and Versailles). Inside you can enjoy both: a coffee and a view.

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A great area for dinner.

After visiting Basílica de Sacré Cœur take a street to the right: it will lead you to the Rue Lepic where you can try the best tarts in Paris. This area is in general a perfect area to have a delicious French dinner. Try Onion Soup Gratinee cooked in a pot and served with fresh crispy bread. Bread and pastry is indeed a separate story in Paris. It seems that batons and croissants taste just better than anywhere else.

Free entrance to the museums. Versailles.

Do you know that entrance to many museums is free of charge on the first Sunday of a month? We proved this in Versailles. It is free, indeed, but a line is incredibly long, though it moves fast. For those who travel with a suitcase there are lockers inside.
Versailles is spacious and luxurious. Though, not so impressing as Petergof, a suburb of Sankt Petersburg.

Probably, a one-in-a-lifetime trip. But worth seeing. If you live next to the park, it is a nice place for a weekend walk with a family or a picnic with friends.
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Metro.

The only thing that confused us was Parisian metro. The directions are not always clearly pointed, the metro maps are not always available… Often we were making circles and loops to empirically find the right direction. There are no ticket machines when you change from a regional train to an ordinary city train and vice versa. My advice: buy tickets in advance. 10 single trips cost 14 Euro. A RER from CDG airport costs 10 Euro one way.

Paris is definitely a city one would return to many times. Perfect for a long weekend. Next time – in summer.

Georgia: a song about food.

Indeed! It’s so much about the food here. Having a hasteless dinner with a bottle of wine, enjoying incredible meal, listening to live music, getting to know people at the neighbor table – priceless! And so affordable – Oh My Goodness! So affordable, that we managed going out every single night to a good restaurant, ordering whatever we like and choosing a good wine. Below are a couple of tips and places where you can have a delicious meal with a good atmosphere for a nice price.

Breakfast. Here you don’t have any problem of choice. You should only decide how much time is in your command. This will define the place you choose. Fast food that you grab on the street costs almost nothing: in Kutaisi we had a Kada for 70 Tetri (25 cents = 0,7 Lari. Further I will give the prices only in Lari: keep in mind, you have to divide it to 2,4-2,7 to get a price in Euro) and a simple chachapuri (that tastes good but not so amazing as special ones) for 1,8 Lari while exploring the city and not willing to wait in a café.

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In Tbilisi, on the opposite, we went to a nice open café and ordered an Adjarian chachapuri (Acharuli/Adjaruli) – here the dough is formed into an open boat shape and the hot cheese inside is topped with a raw egg and a pat of butter before serving. You should mix the cheese with the egg and butter and eat it together with the dough. Mmm, yummy! A huge, huge portion that is enough for two if you are not extremely hungry. Costs about 8 to 12 Lari for a portion.

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You can order an ice-coffee for 3 Lari, Coca-Cola for 1,5 Lari. Mineral water 0,5l costs in small shops on your way about 20-50 Tetri depending on the proximity of touristic attractions. By the way, you should try the salty mineral water. Same price, new taste. A lot of minerals, but still very specific. Some people say it quenches your thirst. Anyway, try to get to know if you like it or hate it.

Fruit is in abundance, fresh, juicy and tasty. For instance, 1kg of grapes costs 1,5 Lari. Another local thing you should try is churchhela. It’s receipt is ages old: it is made by dipping strings of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.) or dried fruits into thickened grape juice with addition of flour and drying it in the sun. One piece costs 2 to 4 Lari. Looks, probably, a bit weird, but tastes gooood.

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In Kazbegi we were very short of time and bought just a bread on our way to a hill we were willing to climb. De-li-ci-o-us! Freshly baked, crispy, flavorous, huge (talking about the size of the portions again). Bread is called “puri” in Georgian and is being baked in a deep circular clay oven. We had luck to find one bakery right next to the place we stayed.

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After climbing a hill we had a light lunch at Khavi, a restaurant that offers a fine selection of meals and cheapest prices in the very heart of Kazbegi (next to the “bus station”). It was recommended by our host, but we didn’t manage to get inside the night before as it was booked for a private dinner.
Instead, the evening before we had a great meal in a place called Shorena’s Bar Restaurant (Al.Kazbegi Square). We ordered a recommended dish called “Shkmeruli” – chicken cooked in milk and garlic. It took us a while (more than an hour for sure, but be prepared: in Georgian restaurants you should not be in a hurry – it always lasts long if you want it cooked from A to Z and be super fresh).

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Excuse me, but I will repeat myself again: the portion is sooo huge, enormous. Enough for 2-3 persons. It cost 25 Lari. The eggplant cooked with tomatoes and spices – 9 Lari. A bottle of wine Kindzamarauli, the best wine they offer in Shorena’s, – 32 Lari. Second best – Saperavi – 23 Lari. Chacha – 5 Lari for a shot.
The waiters in this restaurant speak at least four languages (Georgian, Hebrew, Russian and English) and have an interesting sense of humor. An answer to our any question was first “No”, then they did what they have been asked. Young funny guys, have an Israel’s flag in the room and singing Georgian pop songs with a TV on. A charming evening with a nice couple from Tel-Aviv and lots of wine.
Another thing to do in Kazbegi in the evening is to go to the Hotel Rooms Kazbegi and grab a drink there. The prices and not Georgian at all. But the view is breathtaking. Those, who do not climb the hill to get to the Gergeti Trinity Church, should definitely enjoy the view on the terrace of this hotel.

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In Tbilisi we went twice to the same restaurant, called “Georgian”. Not so easy to find, as I recognized later. The restaurant is in a small cellar, open late in the afternoon, live music every evening: two elderly guys playing American songs and some other swingy-jazzy music. A liter of wine costs about 15 Lari. You should try mushrooms baked in cheese with nuts, khinkali, suluguni (local mild cheese), you should just basically try everything! And local Georgian Brandy. If you like it, you can find it in the wine shops in the city. It costs 14 Lari and more. Wine you can buy for 6 Lari and higher. For my favorite Kindzamarauli I paid 18 Lari in Tbilisi and 7,5 Euro in the duty free in Kutaissi. That was the medium price. It can cost 40 euros and more. But one of the best red semi-sweet wines I’ve ever tried. Definitely a must.
The best dinner we had in Batumi in the restaurant Shemoikhede Genatsvale (8 Noe Zhordania St). It cost us 48 Lari – where else you could enjoy a whole palette of local cuisine and drinks (out of that 16 Lari a bottle of white wine, Chachapuri on a stick, fried suluguni in a pan, four khinkali, meat dish, 2 shots chacha). On the photo delow is suluguni fried in a pan. A bit bread and tkemali sause (beware, a lot of coriander as in almost all dishes of Georgian cuisine) – is all what you need for these savory moments.

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We were stuffed and happy. However, not only the meal was good but so was a “show”. Next to us, about 15 Georgians at the table sang before they started their meal, during and after. Strong voices, great sense of melody, surprisingly good sound. We were literally impressed. It suited very well together: delicious slow meal and powerful voices. Applauses followed. The link to the video is below (filmed somewhat secretly):

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Last night before our flight back to Berlin we spent in a restaurant “Palaty” (Pushkini Street II) in Kutaisi. Medium check with wine was 45-50 Lari. We had something different that we tried in Georgia before: a lechkhumian smoked pork on a wooden plate, with local moist bread and slices of suluguni. The combination was heavenly savory, and the portion, as ever, immense.
We absolutely come back to Georgia to enjoy more great stuff and authentic cuisine. And wine, for sure!