Europa

Barcelona – Del Mar – Gothic Quarter

Back from my Barcelona research trip with heaps of information and photographs taken for my dissertation. I’m so glad that I took the extra two days to look around the city as the last time I was there was back in 2008, and things seem to have changed since then. I stayed in the Del Mar region “The Sea”, close to the church I am writing on Santa Maria del Mar. It is part of the Bairro Gotica of Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter, though slightly distanced from the general throngs of tourist (I do have my way of avoiding the masses).

First things first, Barcelona is packed full of tourists. When I say packed I mean PACKED. It’s not the biggest city in Europe yet somehow they manage to squeeze in visitors from around the world and you can really feel the strain when walking around the Gothic Quarter, which is the one place all tourists expect to tick off of their to do lists. Del Mar is slightly removed from the heart of the Gothic Quarter, which makes it a nice place to find a hotel/hostel, though it is equally as expensive as say La Rambla (argh tourist trap hell!).

Regardless of how expensive it can be, Del Mar is a stunning neighborhood, full of little bars, cafes and fashion boutiques. It is also closer to the beach, which can come in handy on a hot summer’s day, which was clearly not the case during my stay. Yet Del Mar is beautiful come rain or shine.

Del Mar "The Sea" Barcelona
Del Mar “The Sea” Barcelona

 

Catalan Pride
Catalan Pride

Well behaved tourists at the Picasso Museum
Well behaved tourists at the Picasso Museum

Things to do and see in Del Mar:

1. Get completely lost a la Venice style as you walk down little alley ways

2. Visit the Santa Maria del Mar church (I shall discuss this in my next post)

3. Picasso Museum – FREE for university students (imagine my surprise…) – Picasso’s collection is safely stored away in a magnificent Pallazzo style building

4. Boutiques – lots of boutiques selling all sorts of clothes and custom made goods

5. The beach – a five minute walk away

6. Ciutadella Park – it has a lake and you can hire a little boat to go round and round in

7. Montaditos – lunch time goodies – mini sandwiches filled with all sorts of good stuff, these reminded me of Venetian cicchetti, which was fitting considering the medieval backstreets. However they don’t come cheap at approx. 1.30E per pop. I’ll write a little more about these in another post

8. Best bar in Del Mar region – El Born on Passeig del Born, no. 26. It’s behind the church to the right. This is a quaint little alternative artsy bar with cheap wine and snacks including montaditos and empanadas. Go there. Go.

 

Warnings:

1. Be careful when choosing restaurants as many will rip you off

2. Don’t eat anywhere that has an English menu and laminated images of dishes

3. Breakfast – you can grab a coffee/cappuccino/tea and croissant for 1.80E – much more than this and it’s a rip off. There are a couple of good cafes in the Santa Maria del Mar church piazza that offer a cheap breakfast deal

 

Nearest transport links:

1. Jaume I (metro)

2. Barceloneta (metro)

3. Estacio de Franca – for trains to and from Barcelona El Prat airport and surrounding areas

Oh hi sun! Santa Maria del Mar as seen from heaven
Oh hi sun! Santa Maria del Mar as seen from heaven

 

South of the River – the 6eme

I have never been a south of the river kind of girl. I grew up in the north London, I have family in northeastern Italy and I dream of planning a road trip around Scandinavia.

For a girl who has spent so much time in Paris, I have hardly spent time further south than the Ile de la Cité. Last week I decided to give a little TLC to that which is south of the Seine. I always knew that the south of Paris, the 6eme and surrounding areas, are ‘a little bit posh’ and maybe this is why I prefer to spend my time in areas such as Montmartre, Le Marais and Oberkampf.

The beautiful thing about Paris for me is its subtlety in architecture, uniform white lines and blocks which seem to run for miles. Walls appear clean and light reflects givings the impression of sheer scale even on the most overcast of days.

Pretty Streets of Saint Germain des-Prés
Pretty Streets of Saint Germain des-Prés

So I began my south of the river adventure in at St. Michel, from the metro stop I followed east towards Saint Germain des-Prés where I encountered pretty backstreets with even prettier boutiques, including the regulars: Petit Bateau and Louis Vuitton and, some independents too. M. Poncini Arts et Bijoux’s beautiful display windows caught my eye. The boutique can be found at 147 Boulevard St. Germain

All the Pretty Things. M. Poncini Arts et Bijoux.
All the Pretty Things. M. Poncini Arts et Bijoux.

And I got a little church action when accidentally bumping into the absolutely beautiful Church of Saint Sulpice in the Luxembourg Quarter.

Saint-Sulpice
Saint-Sulpice

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And of course the beautiful Jardin Luxembourg which astonishes me whatever the weather. I shall definitely be crossing that river again soon…

Jardin Luxembourg
Jardin Luxembourg

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An Education in French Queens

Forgive me, for it’s been over a month since I last blogged. My mind has been engulfed by postgraduate studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art! Finally I have 5 minutes (more like half an hour) to myself, which means… well deserved precious blogging time. Autumn has to be my favorite time of the year for all it’s golden leafy glory (plus it’s birthday season for me) and so I present to you, an autumnal beauty, Jardin Luxembourg, Paris.

Jardin Luxembourg
Jardin Luxembourg

 

Marie de Medici
Marie de Medici

Florentine born Marie de Medici, queen of France, true to her Medici blood, she was a major patron of French Arts

Marguerite d'Angouleme
Marguerite d’Angouleme

 

Mathilde
Mathilde

Here’s where nations unite, Mathilde was the consort of William the Conqueror

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

Yes even the Queen of Scots has her French affiliates

Jeanne d'Albret
Jeanne d’Albret

A saintly figure…

Saint Genevieve
Saint Genevieve

And Delacroix!

Delacroix
Delacroix

Oh and if you’re under 4ft tall you can ride on one of these babies

cute
cute

 

 

Merci.

An afternoon stroll down Boulevard Beaumarchais led to the discovery of Merci general store that literally, generally sells everything. We sat outside their  used books cafe (seeing as they sell everything)  and sipped on hot cocoa before browsing their shelves.

hot cocoa and green tea bites
hot cocoa and green tea bites

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books for days
books for days

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Merci is located at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, nearest Metro stops Filles du Calvaire and Saint Sebastien Froissart. Close by is the Rue de Vieille du Temple and the region of Le Marais for shopping and dining.

Merci.

 

Visiting the Sun King at Versailles

Versailles, beautiful yet tragic. A spectacular achievement in French architecture that would only see three generations of the French royal family inhabiting its walls. The Chateau  de Versailles was begun by eccentric Louis XIV, who moved the court from Paris to Versailles in the seventeenth century. The site of the palace was originally a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII, over the next century Versailles would be expanded upon and transformed into an exquisite pleasure palace from which the descendants of Louis XIV would continue to act out the sacred royal rights initiated by the Sun King.

The Sun King
The Sun King

I have been reading about Louis XIV and his descendants over the past couple of years. From the Sun King and his mistresses, to the boy king Louis the Beloved and the unfortunate Louis Capet, I have slowly traced the lives of the family at their royal residence. My particular interest is in Marie Antoinette’s life at court and her constant battle to legitimize herself as a Bourbon queen (she was a direct descendant of Louis XIV’s brother Phillipe Duc d’Orleans).

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In visiting Versailles, I feel that I was able to retrace her steps by physically walking the grounds that she inhabited. From the tight routines and restrictions of the palace to the seclusion in her later days at the Petit Trianon and Queen’s Hamlet. Versailles is full of tourists all year round. Upon entering the main palace, along with hundreds of tourists, I felt what is probably a similar claustrophobia to Marie Antoinette’s whilst at court. Louis XIV had turned Versailles into an open air royal museum, members of the court would observe and participate in the French royal family’s daily routines including the waking up to the preparation of the evening coucher of the king and queen. There would have been little time for Marie Antoinette to spend on her own or with her close friends due to etiquette. My own walk through the palace was led by a populous group of tourists, mostly Asian with expensive cameras and heavy duty lenses. The blinding flash and constant sound of the camera shutters distorted the elaborate Baroque wallpaper and mouldings. Here I was taking part in an age old royal routine.

Hall of Mirrors
Hall of Mirrors

By the time we’d passed the King’s chambers and the hall of mirrors I felt completely exhausted and lacked inspiration to record my experience (plus the constant flash of cameras had given me a migraine by this point).

Portrait of the Artist (and friend)
Portrait of the Artist (and friend)

Eventually I was pushed along to the queen’s chambers, the last queen to have used the apartments being Marie Antoinette. It was as I had imagined. Across the walls I could see the stylistic evolution and contribution of the queens who had inhabited the space. Having been packed into the room with slightly aggressive tourists, I could imagine the suffocation Marie Antoinette felt when she gave birth to her first child Marie Therese, the queen had fainted soon after. Such an experience must have further encouraged her to step away from court life.

The Queen's Chambers
The Queen’s Chambers

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I wish I had been more patient to really explore the palace but I just didn’t feel like myself whilst I was there. As we slowly moved towards the exit I began to relax. And so a feeling of tranquility took over the anxiety as I walked through the gardens. The labyrinth of green muffled the sounds of visitors and kept them away from sight. Instead I was greeted with Classical Baroque music pumping out from speakers hidden in the bushes. This gave a rather grand effect to the feel of the space though I would much rather have experienced it as it was, without the aid of modern technology (the speakers).

The Gardens
The Gardens

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I can see why Marie Antoinette chose the Petit Trianon as her get away from court life. The little chateau is a 20 minute walk away from the main palace, it is hidden away in a green corner surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Louis VXI gave the chateau to Marie Antoinette on her 19th birthday. It had originally belonged to Louis XV mistress Madame Pompadour and after her death it was given to his final mistress Madame Du Barry. In this way Marie Antoinette appears to have taken the role not of Louis XVI’s consort but of his mistress, they were yet to produce an heir to the throne. The lack of a Dauphin and the decision to seclude herself from court would eventually lead to rumors and the negative perception of the queen of France by the public.

It appears that the Petit Trianon is somewhat unheard of or less popular with the tourists. I was delighted to find peace and tranquility at the chateau Marie Antoinette called her own.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette

My most memorable experience at Versailles would have to be discovering the Temple of Love. This to me was the epitome of Marie Antoinette’s shift to embracing nature through the creation of an English garden and the temple at Versailles. Louis XVI is known to have heavily invested in improving the gardens. The carefully planned out landscape appears to imitate nature. The temple was created by the queen’s architect Richard Mique. An exquisite example of the Neo-Classical style that was slowly replacing Baroque architecture at Versailles.

Temple of Love
Temple of Love

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Next we made our way to the Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette’s rustic hideaway, a place that she would increasingly spend more time in, especially with her children. Here the queen commissioned rustic buildings in the guise of Norman and Flemish country houses. She would take her friends and family to relax in the gardens, visit the dairy, the mill and even to a little farm with goats, pigs and chickens. This was at a time when Marie Antoinette became interested in the ‘back to nature’ philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his is also the philosophy that would greatly influence the French revolution.

Hameau de la Reine
Hameau de la Reine
fresh vegetables - tomatoes being grown to this day
fresh vegetables – tomatoes being grown to this day

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Lastly we walked around the grounds of the Grand Trianon, the family’s retreat. Just as the Petit Trianon, this palace was a place in which the king and queen (or mistress) could relax away from court etiquette. Royal guests residing temporarily at the Grand Trianon included the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, the Duchess de Burgundy, Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, her son Philippe d’Orleans, Peter the Great of Russia and Napoleon.

The Grand Trianon
The Grand Trianon
stairs that lead to...
stairs that lead to…

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As I waved goodbye to Versailles, vowing to return again soon, I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that at one point Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette also waved goodbye to the only home they had ever known. I reflected on the hectic claustrophobia I felt at the main palace and how this was washed away at the peaceful Trianons, as it would have been when the grounds were inhabited by the royal family. The  main palace is worth seeing the first time round though I shall definitely be avoiding it like the plague on my next visit. I would like to see the changing faces of Versailles from  Autumn through to Spring, Summer and Winter.

The palace is easily reached from Paris if you would care to take a visit. I took the Line C from St. Michel in the direction of Versailles-Chateau. You can also take the Line C from Musee d’Orsay, Invalides, Pont de l’Alma and Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel. I would suggest arriving at the palace early in the morning, half an hour prior to opening times as I can guarantee queues will already be forming. If you do arrive later, be prepared for a one hour to one hour and a half waiting time. Once you are in the ticketing building, speed up the ticket purchase time by buying your tickets from one of the machines instead of waiting to be served at the desk.  Free admission for under 25’s and History of Art and Architecture students. Enjoy!

 

 My Favourite Paris – Montmartre

My preference for arrondissements has changed over the years. From historical centre 1st, to spreading out slightly to the 2nd, trendy 4th over to Latin Quarter 5th, back to 3rd, pass by 11th, touristic 7th to the canal in the 10th… but the 18th shall always hold a special place in my heart.

Montmartre lies perfectly at the tip of the 18th. Though a popular tourist attraction, the crowds of tourist with flashy cameras can easily be avoided if you know how…

The Sacre Coeur is one of my all time favorite displays of magnificent French architecture. I always pay homage to it on my visits to Paris. It sits peacefully and elegantly on top of the hill. One place I do avoid (at all costs) is the Place de Tetre behind the church, which is heavily populated by tourist and souvenir shops.

Sunny Day at Montmartre
Sunny Day at Montmartre

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Eating out in Montmartre can either be expensive or disappointing if you end up in a tourist trap. One lesson I’ve learnt is never to order a crepe from a place that has a pile of precooked crepes on the side waiting to be filled. The French are famous for their emmental filled crepes though it’s best to look for a place that makes them fresh from the batter on the spot, unfortunately I haven’t yet found a decent creperie in Montmartre. What I have found are fantastic bakers and cheese shops (yes shops that solely sell cheese).

I Heart French Cheese
I Heart French Cheese

Rue des Abbesses and the roads that follow down from it to Pigalle, such as Rue Lepic are my favorites for boulangeries, fromageries, fresh fruit and veg and fresh fish (oyster bar anyone?).

I’ve blogged about it before and I’ll blog about it again. Le Relais Gascon is my favorite restaurant in Paris. I like to convince myself that I’m eating healthy by ordering one of their huge salads. The food is a treat, the wine is decent (and decently priced) and the service is quick, most of all it’s not pretentious and doesn’t try to be “typically French”, it just is. I especially love sitting outside as the view down to Pigalle is great for people watching, even on a rainy day.

"salad" at Le Relais Gascon
“salad” at Le Relais Gascon

I’ve come to realize that the main reason people in Paris dress so well is the availability of inexpensive fashion a la vintage shops. Though not the centre of vintage (which I shall discuss in a later post), Montmartre has it’s fair share of decently priced vintage boutiques (5 Euro boyfriend coats for example…). My friend and I spent well over an hour inside one particular shop that not only sells vintage clothing but shoes, bags, furniture, books… you name it, they sell it.

The shop: Les Billes de la Gamine, the owner: Cecile. Cecile is a connoisseur in all things vintage. She just has to look at you to pick out the perfect item that you will instantly fall in love with. The star buy was my friend’s 30 Euro pair of Doc Martins boots in ivy green. Cecile’s little shop can be found at 66 Rue d’Orsel, at the very tip of Rue des Abbesses.

Vintage Cool at Les Bille de la Gamine
Vintage Cool at Les Bille de la Gamine

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Other great vintage shops that I shall definitely be visiting again include:

Chine Machine

100 Rue des Martyrs

75018, Paris

and Vintage Desir (for those 5 Euro boyfriend coats)

28 Rue Yvonne le Tac

75018, Paris

(sadly they don’t have a website or a Facebook page)

Sunday is flea market day in Montmartre, Rue de Clignancourt boasts stretches of market stalls selling all sorts. I felt absolutely chuffed to have discovered it by chance one day! Nearest Metro stop in Montmartre is Chateau Rouge though it’s a 5 minute walk from the Sacre Coeur. You can also stop at the very tip of the market at Metro stop Porte de Clignancourt where they have the bigger more serious stalls, I believe these are also open on Fridays and Saturdays.

early morning just as the flea market was opening
early morning just as the flea market was opening

Most of all I love Montmartre for it’s slopes and slides, green open spaces and quiet little back streets. The sky always appears bluer in Montmartre, I can only imagine the influence the landscape would have had on the great French Impressionists who populate this area.

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 Forward Thinking Copenhagen

Nyhavn - Copenhagen Waterfront
Nyhavn – Copenhagen Waterfront

Considering that I am a big fan of the ‘old’, Copenhagen would not have seemed the obvious travel destination for me. My newly found interest in clean lines and minimalist design has led to a fascination with Scandinavian countries. I thought to start my discovery of all things Scandinavian at the very bottom of the map with Denmark, I hope to work my way up through Sweden and Norway very soon.

The first thing I noticed about Copenhagen is the attention to detail. Design appears to be of importance to the Danish, everything seems to have its place. Design is efficient as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Street Life
Street Life

This is the first picture I took in Copenhagen. It might not look like much but these are typical street lights in the city. I absolutely love the simplicity of the design.

Copenhagen is perfectly balanced between the new and the old. The Latin Quarter at the centre of town is densely populated with tourists.  Historical red brick architecture is finely preserved. Making my way out of the centre to the surrounding districts such as Norreport and Norrebro, I found a very natural transition to 19th and 20th century buildings, very much influenced by those being built in Europe at the same time, such as in Paris and Rome.

 

Streets are perfectly marked with pedestrian walkways, cycle paths and a mostly one way driving system. I was amazed at the dedication of the Danes to cycling around town. Everyone cycles, whether young, old, woman or man, adult or child. It was heartwarming to see parents pushing their children along in carts attached to the front of their bicycles. Everywhere I turned there were bikes parked along the sidewalk, surprisingly most bikes weren’t locked. I felt safe in this city.

On Yer Bike!
On Yer Bike!

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It is extremely easy to walk around Copenhagen. I wouldn’t suggest doing it all in a day though two to three days is more than enough time to enjoy the city. Official, free tourist maps can be picked up anywhere in the city, from train and metro stations to hotels and shops. The map definitely helped me navigate my way around the city.

Norrebro

My favorite part of Copenhagen would have to be Norrebro. Norrebro is to the north of the historical centre, a 10 to 15 minute walk from Norreport metro station. This part of the city is much quieter and residential. Here you can spend some time in the beautiful Assistens Cemetery (Assistens Kirkegaard). It might sound like a bit of a crazy thing to do whilst traveling but this is one of Copenhagen’s largest green spaces and is a popular place for locals to relax and spend time with family and friends. I spotted early birds going for their morning run, fathers pushing their babies along in prams and hip art students sitting on the grass enjoying a glass of wine and a laugh. Famous individuals to have been buried at Assistens Cemetery include Hans Christian Andersen (for all you Little Mermaid fans) and Soren Kierkegaard.

Walking back down to the centre from the cemetery I spotted plenty of fashion boutiques, all of which were very expensive though I vowed that one day I would return in order to pursue my taste for Scandinavian fashion.

One thing that bugged me slightly was the lack of cafes and coffee shops, or just quiet places to enjoy a warm drink in the centre (the Danes seem to have a thing for Joe and the Juice (a terrible chain of cafes that appears to be their equivalent of a ‘hip’ Starbucks if ever there were such a thing…). Norrebro however boasts fine cafes and good coffee.

The best spots to browse through fashion boutiques, vintage shops and to take a coffee pit stop are on super stylish Jaegersborggade (at the very tip of the cemetery), Elmegade (as you walk down from the cemetery on the right) and Blagardsgede (two blocks down from Elmegade on the right).

Coffee at the Laundromat Cafe, Norrebro
Coffee at the Laundromat Cafe, Norrebro

My favorite cafe would have to be the Laundromat Cafe on Elmegade in Norrebro. The coffee is good as was my simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and grilled tomatoes. The staff are super friendly and they have outdoor seating with blankets included, Copenhagen is following on in the style of European outdoor seating.

 

I have found my little hub of pleasure to the north of the busy tourist spots. I shall definitely come back to Copenhagen to dig deeper into the more native spots where locals roam such as Norrebro and Osterbro.

 

 

 

 

 

 Neo-Classical Glory, the Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen

The church of Our Lady, is the cathedral of Copenhagen and the Denmark national cathedral. It is situated at the centre of the city, next to the university of Copenhagen on Vor Frue Plads. The building that stands today replaces a previous Baroque church which in turn was build in place of a medieval church.

The easiest way to reach the cathedral is by taking the Norregade from Norreport metro station.

Copenhagen Cathedral
Copenhagen Cathedral

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Red Brick Copenhagen

As an art historian, I have developed a passion for European Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The Classical balance, light reflecting, clean facades and Baroque pomp attract me to cities around Italy, Spain and France and even Brazil (Minas Gerais and Bahia). Never before had I experienced Germanic or Scandinavian red brick architecture as I was about to in Copenhagen.

I had done my research prior to visiting the city and the first thing that I noticed was the conservative nature to the architecture in the Latin Quarter (historical centre) of Copenhagen. Red brick combined itself with Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism and Neo Gothic (Grundtvig’s Church in Bispebjerg).

Church of the Holy Ghost

Church of the Holy Ghost, Latin Quarter
Church of the Holy Ghost, Latin Quarter

Hidden amongst the throngs of tourists in the Latin Quarter, sits the beautiful Church of the Holy Ghost (Helligaandskirken).

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The Organ
The Organ

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The Altar
The Altar
Sunshine and Stained Glass
Sunshine and Stained Glass

Saint Peter’s Church

Behind the Copenhagen Cathedral (which I shall mention in another post) on Skt. Peders Straede stands St. Peter’s Church (St. Petri Kirke). This church has seen a number of transformations from its original single nave plan of the 12th century through to the current 15th century plan and its stunning Baroque copper spire. The church is dedicated to the German speaking community in Copenhagen.

Saint Peter's Church
Saint Peter’s Church

 

The organ, clean white lines
The organ, clean white lines

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Copenhagen City Hall

I accidentally bumped into the Copenhagen City Hall whilst on my way to Christianshavn. The magnificent red brick building, built in the National Romantic style made such a sharp contrast to the blue of the sky that I thought it would pierce the depth above me.

Copenhagen City Hall
Copenhagen City Hall

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Borsen

Everyone kept telling me to to go to Christianshavn to see the hippie commune, to hang out surrounded by artists, students and bohemians alike. Though I appreciated Christianshavn, nothing could have hit me quite as hard as the Old Stock Exchange building as I crossed back over Knippelsbro. The Old Stock Exchange (Borsen) looks like something out of an old Fairy Tale. The copper dragon spire is like nothing I have ever seen in my life!

The Old Stock Exchange, Borsen
The Old Stock Exchange, Borsen

Of course there is far more red brick to be discovered in Copenhagen but I hope I’ve stirred your curiosity enough to pick up a map and take a walk in search of some of Copenhagen’s finest historical buildings.

 

 

Escape the Crowds in Pordenone 

As much as I love Venice, at times the heat, sun and crowds of tourists can become a bit much for me. If you feel like a day trip outside of the island city, to somewhere more peaceful, take the train up north to Pordenone. At the very top eastern tip of Italy lies Pordenone, in between Venice and Trieste, this is a perfect pit stop location for those wondering travelers. I fell in love with the city immediately, this is northern Italy at its finest.

Renaissance architecture along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
Renaissance architecture along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II

Stunning Gothic and Renaissance architecture with surviving facade painting still survives. Whilst in Pordenone, I felt like I had stepped back in time, sheltered from the rough edges of modern living.

A typical day in Pordenone
A typical day in Pordenone

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As you can imagine, being an art history fan, this was like architectural porn/Disney Land for me.

Architectural Porn
Architectural Porn
Palazzo Ricchieri
Palazzo Comunale

If you do plan that day trip out of Venice or Trieste to Pordenone, you’ll probably bump into this place. The Loggia del Municipo (Gothic Communal Palace) is now the seat of the town’s council. I love the architectural fusion of the original 13th century Gothic body with the addition of the 16th century towers.

Duomo di San Marco
Duomo di San Marco

Across from the palazzo is the Cathedral of San Marco, originally a Gothic construction, this church has been remodeled over the centuries until its final 18th century reconstruction by Domenico Rossi.

Campanile
Campanile

Absolutely in love with the bell tower.

Iced Beaten Coffee
Iced Beaten Coffee

Relax in the Piazza San Marco with an iced beaten coffee, over looking the architectural splendor and peaceful happenings of Pordenone.

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Other sights to visit include the Chiesa della Santissima Trinita, a beautiful 16th century octagonal church which is located across the river from the historical center. If you’ve got an eye for designer wear then Pordenone is the place for you. The Medieval streets are lined with Italian and international high end fashion boutiques.

 

 

A Day Trip to Venice

So it’s been barely a year since I was last in the island city. We took a train from Sacile into Venice, which took a little under an hour. I didn’t think it possible but I am even more in love with this city.

One of the dead end back streets we discovered when weaving our way through Venice
One of the dead end back streets we discovered when weaving our way through Venice

This time round we tried our best to avoid the main streets that led either to the Rialto Bridge or to the Piazza San Marco. Surprisingly, though we tried to stay away from the masses, we either ended up taking a back street short cut straight to the Rialto Bridge or running around in circles. Once we orientated ourselves there was some room for discovery…

Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute
Basilica Di Santa Maria Della Salute

This is Santa Maria Della Salute. This beautiful example of Baroque architecture is located in Dorsoduro, it can be seen across the river from Piazza San Marco and sits at the very tip of the Canal Grande.

Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco

Walking back on ourselves we crossed over to the other side of the canal to pay a quick visit to the Piazza San Marco, which was relatively peaceful and tourist free at 10:30 am.

Basilica San Marco
Basilica San Marco

I am particularly interested in the Basilica San Marco for it’s Islamic influences. I absolutely love all the gold mosaic work and Byzantine glory to this church. For a long time Venice had a strong alliance with Byzantium and this church reflects these ties.

Basilica San Marco
Basilica San Marco
Islamic influences at the Basilica San Marco
Islamic influences at the Basilica San Marco

This is one of the most beautiful architectural facades I have ever witnessed. As you can see there is a clear influence of Islamic decorative technique occurring on this facade of the Basilica San Marco. The door way imitates typically Islamic mihrab decorative techniques.

I do love my greens and clearly so do Italians. I’d be convinced to move to Italy purely for their dedication to fresh fruit and veg markets. Market foods in Venice are seasonal, fruit smells like fruit appear to like something out of this world. Just look at these giant tomatoes!

Ripe for the picking. Fresh tomatoes at the Rialto Market
Ripe for the picking. Fresh tomatoes at the Rialto Market
Beautiful sun dried tomatoes at the Rialto Market
Beautiful sun dried tomatoes at the Rialto Market

Shopping for the right mask in Venice is tricky. Many are fooled by the cheaper masks sold on stalls and in gift shops along the Canal Grande and around the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. On visiting Venice you will see that masks are often ‘repeated’ as you walk along the heavily populated tourist regions. These plastic masks are more often than not, mass produced in China.

As a general rule, I would suggest walking around the quieter parts of Venice and not buying a mask at impulse in the first mask shop you encounter. You can usually tell a genuine hand made mask from a cheap Chinese plastic one by the quality and feel of the mask or by the ‘official’ made in Italy sticker inside masks. Genuine masks are hardly ever mass produced, each mask is usually individual as masks are handmade. The artists more often than not will be inside the shop, busily working away at new creations. A sign of a good mask shop is it’s artists so feel free to ask questions about their works and techniques, they are a friendly, creative and happy bunch!

 

They're all my favorites. Mask shopping in Venice
They’re all my favorites. Mask shopping in Venice

 

Pretty Faces
Pretty Faces

If you’re looking for genuine, handmade Venetian masks, the following shops are worth paying a visit to:

La Bauta

Campo San Toma 2867, San Polo, Venezia – 041 740095

Crosera San Pantalon, Dorsoduro, Venezia 041 5233461

la.bauta@yahoo.it

They don’t have a website, you’ll have to visit one of their shops to see for yourself. These masks are absolute masterpieces.

 

Atelier Marega 

Fondamenta dell’ Osmarin 4968, Venezia – 041 5223036

www.marega.it

This is one of my favorite little mask shops. The artists sit at the entrance working their magic. It’s a 5 minute walk from Piazza San Marco, towards Castello.

Ca’ Macana 

Dorsoduro 3172, 30123 – 041 5203229

http://www.camacana.com/

Freakishly entertaining mask shop!

Papier Mache 

Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, Castello 5174b, 30122 – 041 5229995

http://www.papiermache.it/

Another little artist’s workshop in Castello, not far from Piazza San Marco.

Shrine to Our Lady
Shrine to Our Lady
Gothic window arches
Gothic window arch

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 Foodie in Italy

It’s not everyday that I get excited about visiting the supermarket. I could easily spend an unnecessary amount of time in the vegetable section of an Italian grocery store.

Locally sourced fresh vegetables at the supermarket in Perdonone
Locally sourced fresh vegetables at the supermarket in Perdonone

 

Zucchine, Italian staple food. It's in most dishes and grows everywhere.
Zucchine, Italian staple food. It’s in most dishes and grows everywhere.
Humongous apples that actually smell like apples!
Humongous apples that actually smell like apples!
Italians love their apricots and so do I
Italians love their apricots and so do I
This one's for the cheese lovers everywhere
This one’s for the cheese lovers everywhere
It doesn't get better than this
It doesn’t get better than this
Sweets for my sweet
Sweets for my sweet

Coffee culture

Single espresso
Single espresso

Cannoli, a deliciously sweet and filling Sicilian pastry dessert.

Holy Cannoli
Holy Cannoli

And vegetarian pizza for dinner.

Italian pizza. Words cannot express how I feel about this.
Italian pizza. Words cannot express how I feel about this.

 

 

 

 

 

Ride a Bike in Fontanafredda, Italy

In the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, a one hour train ride out from Venice, we discovered Fontanafredda in the province of Pordenone. At the foot of the most northern Italian mountains lies this quaint little town. I had the pleasure of calling this safe haven my resting place during my week long trip in northern Italy.

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Fontanafredda

The nearest train station to Fontanafredde is Sacile. Trains run through Trieste, Pordenone, Treviso and Venice along the Venice-Udine railway line. Grab yourself a bike and go for a ride around the countryside. Soak up the sun, take in the beautiful scenery of corn fields and vineyards, visit old churches and markets. I love Fontanafredda.

Fontanafredda
Fontanafredda
Beautiful Shrine
Beautiful Shrine
Italians and their vintage bikes
Italians and their vintage bikes

Catch a perfect sunset

Fontanafredda
Fontanafredda

 

I HEART Camden Town

Forgive me Father for I have sinned, it has been over a week since I last posted on my blog.

I have to admit that I have been busy with ‘other preoccupations’ including preparations for various trips such as my return to Italy in a couple of weeks. I have also been ill. I am very much bunged up with a cold which I assumed was just hay-fever. This hasn’t stopped me from venturing out and doing what I love most, which is a combination of discovering new and beautiful places as well as fine dining.

Yesterday I spent a sunny afternoon in my local area, Camden Town. Here are some things I love to do in Camden.

Let’s get the food part out of the way.

Market Food at Camden Town Lock Market
Market Food at Camden Town Lock Market

I love the Lock Market, especially the food court on the weekends. Nations unite as market stalls sell Latin America, Caribbean, Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Italian, British and other such world foods. My favorite has to be the stall that sells corn bread wraps. I love the black bean, meat and plantain corn bread wrap. It’s fresh, homemade, wheat free and delicious.

Savoury snacks and a coconut smoothie at Made in Brazil
Savory snacks and a coconut smoothie at Made in Brazil

Brazilians have quite literally taken over the gaff. Camden Town has a growing Brazilian population and with that comes fine Brazilian dinning and food stalls. I love Made in Brazil on Inverness Street. This restaurant has been here for quite some time now though I am yet to be bored of their menu. Brazilians are big on savory snacks, yesterday I sampled their bolinho de bacalhao (salted fish cakes), coxinhas (chicken parcels) and cassava (manioc) chips. These were all watered down nicely with a fresh coconut smoothie. For mains my friend had the feijoada, the national dish of Brazil and I had the moqueca, a  fish dish from Bahia in the north.

Moqueca, a fish dish from Bahia, northern Brazil
Moqueca, a fish dish from Bahia, northern Brazil

After wolfing down our Brazilian food we went in search of shoes (any excuse to go for a brisk walk in order to digest our heavy meals). I love shoes and especially shoes from Author. Author have recently branched out with stores in central London, East and in West London’s Portobello Market. They also have a cute little boutique in Camden Town. Yesterday I fell in love with these babies by MTNG Originals. Classic and perfect for the summer.

MTNG Originals Sandals
MTNG Originals Sandals

If I could spend a warm summer’s day anywhere in London, it would be on Primrose Hill. Primrose Hill is a little world away from the world, a hill of a park in Chalk Farm that connects Camden with Regents Park. Many a fine summer’s days have been spent in Primrose Hill with friends and picnics. Check out the amazing view of the London skyline from the very top!

Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill

 

Catch a sunset on Primrose Hill
Catch a sunset on Primrose Hill

Regent’s Park and the Canal. My sister and I regularly walk down the canal. We love to check out the little boat houses that stretch down the canal from Camden Market to Little Venice in St. John’s Wood. I also love checking out the mansions in Regent’s Park, we walk past picking out our future homes for when we’re rich and famous. My current favorite is this one:

My Home (one day, hopefully, one day, probably not.)
My Home (one day, hopefully, one day, probably not.)
Regent's Canal
Regent’s Canal
Regent's Canal
Regent’s Canal

 

Boat Houses on Regent's Canal
Boat Houses on Regent’s Canal
Not Holland, Regent's Canal
Not Holland, Regent’s Canal

So if it’s a summer’s day, without a cloud in sight, visit Camden Town for some fine dinning, alternative shopping and a walk around somewhere quite nice.

 

 

 

 

Two Days in Paris

So I’ve been quiet, very quiet. I haven’t blogged since late January but I’m not breaking my resolution to blog more often. Last month I was in Paris. Here’s what I saw and did:

Paris is sort of a big deal to me. I love the uniformity and purity of the turn of the century architecture. I adore the little winding backstreets. The food is good, the wine is better.

Day 1 – Montmartre

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The door of Sacre Coeur

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clean lines, light reflecting white, French shutters and balconies

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Blue skies over Sacre Coeur

Day 2 – Le Marais and Notre Dame

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Rue de Rosieres – home to the best falafel and cheese cake Paris has to offer

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Our Lady – Notre Dame

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Gothic glory

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Pyramids

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Sunset at the Louvre

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Candyfloss skies

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Dinner – Bearnaise salad at Le Relais Gascon in Abbesses – Mont Martre. Readers be aware, this is not your typical salad, consisting of salad leaves, lardons, garlic potatoes and goats cheese on baguette, this is one hearty dish that will warm you up during the cold months. Prices range from 12 – 15 Euros a dish. My all time favorite Parisien restaurant.

Le Relais Gascon can be found on Rue des Abbesses, left at Metro Abbesses

Day 3 – Breakfast in Mont Martre before boarding the Eurostar back to London

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We came across this kitsch little cafe in Mont Martre called Milk. I L O V E the 50’s/60’s interior. I felt like I was in a giant vintage doll’s house

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Homemade marmalade (I cannot express how tasty this stuff is) and strawberry jam. 5 Euros for a breakfast of jam on baguette and a hot drink

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Vintage kitsch

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Their lengthy drinks list

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Milk can be found in Mont Martre, 62 Rue d’ Orsel 75018. Nearest Metro is Abbesses

My little treat – 

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Perfume would have to be my guilty pleasure. I’ll eventually get round to writing a post on my favorite scents. I couldn’t leave Paris empty handed so I popped into Fragonard in Le Marais and bought myself the Vetivier Eau de Toilette. Fragonard primarily produce floral and natural scents. Vetivier has a very zesty and clean smell. I used to stick to musky tones but now I am really into zest, especially with the Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin and now this little beauty.

There are Fragonard boutiques scattered around Paris. I got my perfume at their Le Marais branch 52 Rue des Franc-Bourgeouis 75004, nearest Metro – Hotel de Ville

Next stop… Cairo…

Snow Country

No I haven’t bought a last minute ticket to Sweden, this is London in all it’s Winter glory! I woke up on Sunday morning to the brightest white light, looked out the window and low and behold! Snow…

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snow girls

Venice I Love You

A weekend in Venice – August 2012

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