Wednesday, April 8, 2020

From citizen of the WORLD to citizen of my HOME: dealing with an unexpcted journey called Covid19

Up to few weeks ago, I was 100% sure that my next post on this blog would've been about my last trip to the San Blas Islands, a dream come true place for me, made of 365 atolls in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, between Panama and Colombia, where you can "only" find sailing boats, palm trees, sand, sun, fresh fish, few locals - the lovely Kuna tribe - and quite interesting people who have been lucky enough to actually manage to reach this very secluded part of the world. The San Blas Islands were a place that I wanted to visit for so long, years actually. And for a reason or another I always postponed this trip, assuming that I could go there whenever I'd feel like, like any other part of the world, after all. I have always considered my world like a clew, so small and ready to be unrolled for me at any time I'd wish so. And so it's been, so far. Last December, indeed, time came for me to finally fly to my dream destination! And what a trip it was, for sure reality exceeded expectations and, today, I couldn't be happier to have been there, especially considering the fact that the San Blas Islands were among the first places in Central America and South America to close their borders, and sea, due to the Covid19 pandemic. After a bit over a month since I came back, it was not possible to go there anymore. And today, April 7th, 2020, the world is completely closed on itself, in lockdown, as they say, each flat and each family like a small island, apart from each other, just like the San Blas atolls. We went from being citizens of the world to being citizens of our apartments, and it seems that my clew won't unroll for quite a while and that my island will stay empty for some time too, without friends and family coming and going from it, bringing along with them their smiles, their kisses, their hugs, their stories, which today I miss more than ever.

Now let me take a step forward and from Panama let's jump to Naples, my hometown, in the South of Italy, where I am at the moment and where I have been quarantined for the past month. Yes, exactly today, it is one full month of confinement alone in my apartment, without going out at all, if not a couple of times to buy groceries and withdraw some money, once I discovered that I could get my food delivered at my balcony - yes, they literally pass the bags thru the balcony as I live on the first floor - without needing to go out and expose myself to this virus, which has hit Italy very badly, as you might all well know by now. This month of isolation deserves celebration, that's why I decided to write this post about it, to keep a vivid memory of what's going on in our lives right now. For people who know me well and, at times, for myself as well, it is incredible to believe that I am actually having a great period in this isolation mood. I have always been a super active person, I've always done lots of things and activities, my agenda being rarely empty. I am a traveler, a social animal, I am a present friend, the one who will always organize or propose something, who's always up to do stuff, try new things, meet new people, go out in the nature and discover new places. The one that gathers people together. Despite this side of myself and, I must say, thankfully, I am also the kind of person who appreciates and seeks isolation, I have always loved having my own place, my silences, my tempo, my rituals and my routines. Through a deep work done on myself, I learned how to feel good with myself and by myself, how to make myself happy, and this is what is saving me right now. I am alone but not lonely, as I still have myself. If you don't know how to be alone, don't worry! Chances are that you will learn now, if you live on your own in this time of confinement. Another thing that could help you is, of course, having a positive outlook at life in general, including this situation. The so called "positive attitude" doesn't come naturally to everyone, however we can all work on it and succeed. The same situation can be different for each single person, depending on the perspective we look at it. I am sure that if you look deeply, you will find a lot of positive aspects of this very unique moment we are experiencing. Regardless the causes which brought all of us where we are today, I would say that complete isolation can be considered beneficial, therapeutic even, and I would voluntarily undergo to this process at least a couple of times per year, just like fasting. If we think about it, there are people who go to monasteries in Tibet to find isolation, people who enroll to specific retreats to find silence and now we can have it all, without traveling so far and with much less effort.

So, what have I learned and realized in this month of isolation, all by myself?

A friend of mine asked me this question only few days after the lockdown in Italy had started and the first thing that came to my mind was that we are all equal. For the first time since I have awareness, it felt like all around the globe we were all on the same boat, all at the same level, rich and poor, black and white, famous and common, confronted to the same big problem at the very same time, no one immune. Of course, better to be in quarantine in a big villa with a swimming pool than in a 50 square meters apartment, but that's another chapter and I do not wish to open it. However, nothing has united, globalized and yet isolated and separated the world as much as this freaking virus. As of a certain moment up to now, all media have been speaking about the same sad things, the images, the stories, the testimonials, the countries main issues and responses, the conversations with friends - we have all stopped wandering what shall we do over the weekend, as we already got the answer: home, in quarantine! - the Facebook posts and the Instagram pics, the jokes, the polemics, the paranoia, the speculations, the slogans, the hypothesis, the faults, the generosity of people, the new heroes, the smart-working, the solidarity, the tears, the fears, it's all been like a big echo, resonating from one side of the world to the other, leaving us all puzzled and realizing that we think we have control on our lives, but we actually don't. I find this realization pretty much amazing, even more now, when this should be crystal clear to each one of us, little, weak human beings. Anything can change in a day, lives can go upside down overnight, and this should be the very right moment to learn and start living in the present, in the now, surrender to whatever it's due to come to you, rather than feeling sorry for what has been and anxious for what may come, or may not. Be where you are, otherwise you will miss your life!

Another thing that I've never appreciated as much as in this moment is being single! To be honest with you, right now, I can't imagine sharing my apartment 24/7 with someone else, let alone with kids included, and even for the most consolidated families and partnerships this must be a real challenge. During this period, I have developed my way of being and flowing even more and I think it would be very difficult to fit someone else in there, especially when you live in a regular shared apartment, I repeat 24/7. I listen to my favorite music in different moments of the day, depending on whether I am having breakfast, working-out, meditating, taking a hot bath or yoga practicing. I light-up incense and palosanto often. I dance all alone with trash music on and love it! Some mornings I wake up very early and start with yoga and meditation to then have breakfast, other days I wake up a bit later, have a huge breakfast on my sunny balcony and start working straight away - yes, I am lucky, I still have my job which keeps me busy - thanks God - including the funny video-calls I have with my colleagues, where we wear weird hats or sunglasses that are destroying my reputation as Recruiter on LinkedIn ;-) Working-out will be left for the afternoon, in this case. Sometimes I take 2 hours long hot bubbly bath, watching my favorite episodes or listening to music. Others I take a nap. I have long (video) calls with friends and family almost on a daily basis, mostly spontaneously, and I don't have to worry about anyone feeling excluded or listening to me while I do so. And I can dedicate all the time in the world to people who care for me, as I do for them, and doing so we can support each other. Some evenings I read, others I just watch some stuff on the net. Sometimes I sit on my balcony sunbathing, other times I decide to work from my balcony, or inside, or from the living-room, or from the kitchen, depending mostly on the sunlight. I eat whatever and whenever I want - I actually realized that if I have the time, I do love cooking yummy things for myself - sometimes in the evening I fast. I didn't touch one drop of alcohol in the past month and I couldn't be happier, no big sacrifice there. I try to keep regular hours, meaning that I go to bed pretty early and wake up early too. I heard about friends going to sleep at 4am and waking up at 12pm. I think this is totally disruptive for the entire system and will be hard to get back to normal, when we'll all have to. Sometimes I take online courses, I even participated to an online yoga retreat for 2 weekends in a row, which kept me busy almost all day every day of the weekend, between seminars and practices. I still have my yoga courses on Thursday evening with my lovely teacher, who immediately switched to the online mood, and on Sunday afternoon there are always conferences with the Master of my yoga school and we speak about so many different subjects, usually for a couple of hours. It is enlightening and also time consuming. Even by being at home, my agenda is rarely empty and I decided indeed not to subscribe to Netflix, as I don't have the time! And I do not have a TV either! Now - unless I'd have a clone of myself instead of a boyfriend - I don't think I would be able to work as much on myself, without judgments on what I do or don't do all day long, and with all this freedom to decide purely based on my mood, if I had someone else at home to take into account. On top of this, some friends have issues with their partner going to work every day, they are so afraid that the virus could be brought at home, that they find themselves cleaning all the time after their loved one and sleeping in separate beds, split families under the same roof. I mean, what's the advantage of having a boyfriend if you can't even sleep together?!! And, actually, someone I know got the virus from her boyfriend, who is a doctor, and now she's hospitalized, right as I write this post. So, yes, this shit happens for real! All this to tell you that being single during quarantine has been a blast so far and it should be a way for all of us to find ourselves, learn to be good in our own company, identify what we please and make ourselves happy. Of course, after quarantine, applications for the best boyfriend of the world will be open again! ;-) Remember: think positive and if life gives you lemons, make a scrumptious lemonade out of it!


Overall, I like to consider this emergency as a cleansing opportunity, both on the micro and macro level. On the micro level, it is a clearing opportunity for each individual, as we are no more exposed, on a daily basis, to so many people, from those we meet in public transports, or at the gym, or at the office, to friends, customers, random people we meet throughout the day etc...By being isolated, we not only clear our physical area of energy, which is influenced by other's people energies too, whether we like it or not, and whether we are aware of it or not, but we also clear our thoughts, which don't get influenced by other's people opinions, behaviors, comments or projections. This process, of course, happens when we are good enough in managing our use, often over-use, of social-media and instant-communication tools, keeping space for our silences. Also, in this moment, we can clear our minds from all secondary thoughts, all worries, wishes, preoccupations, aspirations, hopes that now we realize were so irrelevant. Let's keep space in our minds only for what really counts in life, and let's clear out what's not necessary anymore, including toxic people. Let's look instead for calmness, stillness, balance and peace and let's maintain in our lives only people that make us feel good and that we make feel good too. On the macro level, it is under everybody's eyes the fact that the planet is finally breathing and thanking us for not abusing it anymore. No more road traffic, air traffic, no more forests burning, no more humans destroying natural treasures with their wrong actions, no more factories polluting the sky and the soil with their massive productions. Waters and air are now cleaner, new species of plants and flowers are seeing the light and animals have finally returned to where they belong. Let's hope it will stay this way also once all this will be over, because soon it will be over. Another factor I was thinking about, and I am sure many of you too, is that this planet is clearly overpopulated. Now, it can seem a bit harsh what I'm about to say, but all these deaths are contributing to the macro cleansing on the world. Of course, I deeply respect all the losses that there have been and I am so, so sorry for the families of all the victims and, of course, for the victims too, who mostly died alone and totally conscious of what was happening. Maybe, though, it was their time, and maybe this is all part of a bigger project we have no grasp on. I just hope my family, friends, colleagues and all people I know, including myself :-) will stay safe and in good health for many, many more years to come. 

I have always practiced gratitude. Up to 2 years ago, I had my "thankful thoughts" jar. It was an actual jar where every week I used to put a note with the things I was grateful for and, at the end of the year, I would open it and read all the beautiful stuff which had happened to me throughout the year. It could also be little things, like a sunset, a plate of good pasta or a sunny day. Since a bit more than a year now, I started meditating almost every day and this totally changed my life. At the beginning of each meditation, I practice gratitude, for whatever big or small thing may have happened to me that day, and I truly do feel grateful, this is the most important thing, not only thinking it but also feeling it.
In this period, I have felt even more grateful. First of all, I am grateful for my health, and for the health of my family and friends. Thanks God, we are all good and kicking, each one of us coping with the situation in the best way possible. I am grateful for my house, which protects me and where I spend a good time. My house is like a sweet cuddle, and I am so happy to live here, between these colorful walls. I am grateful for my job, which leaves me freedom and which I always do with passion. I am grateful because I have good food to eat every day. For the sun shining every morning on my ghost city. I am grateful for my family, who's always close to me. I am grateful for my friends, close and far away. I have been contacted by so many people, and actually this was the occasion to have long conversations with people I hadn't spoken to in a while. People keep on checking-up on me, from all corners of the world, and I can't wait to visit them all when this will be over. And, of course, you're welcome in Italy too! I feel very much loved in this moment. I am grateful for all the beautiful places that I have seen so far, and whenever I want to go back there I just close my eyes and visualize them, the smells, how they made me feel, the views, the tastes, the people. Visualizing can also help us in overcoming this moment of isolation, at least it works with me. Another thing I've never been more grateful for is being Italian! I have never felt more connected to my country than now, never was any prouder. And I also discovered that people love Italy and, as Italians, we feel it strongly. We thank everyone who's prayed for our country and shared the good moments they've spent in Italy with the world. I have so many more things to be grateful for, including the faith that everything will be alright, and I am sure that you have lots of things to be grateful for too! Just pay attention to them, even little things. We were happy and we didn't realize it. We were free and we didn't know it. Let's keep this in mind and look at what we have, rather than thinking about what we are missing.

Tips for an ass-kicking quarantine ;-)
  • Have a regular schedule, meaning don't go to bed too late and don't wake up too late either;
  • Try to have diversified days, even if you are at home. What helps me there is to have a written schedule. I write down all the activities I want to do in a day on a weekly basis. As soon as I see something interesting which is happening on-line and I want to be part of it I subscribe and note it down in my agenda, otherwise we risk to get lost with all the things going on on-line right now; 
  • Drink enough water, cook/eat well and exercise as much as you can, this will help you to stay healthy, to spend a good time and to keep up the mood;
  • If you have a balcony or a garden or even a window, enjoy the sun as much as you can, that's good for your vitamin D and mood;
  • Don't overuse social-media and don't be always in front of your phone reading stuff about Covid19. I stopped doing that after few days from the lockdown. In any cases, I'm home so I don't really care. I am just patiently waiting for the moment I'll be able to go out again. In Italy the lockdown is that serious;
  • Don't get caught-up in polemics or opinions that you see on-line, nor try to change other people's points of view, for as stupid as you think they are. Disregard what you read and move on; 
  • Put on your favorite music and DANCE!; 
  • Stay close to family and friends and call them whenever you feel like. Try also to make yourself available whenever they need you too;
  • Unlock your potential, get creative and look for ideas for when all this will be over, now we have got time to think, let's use it wisely! If you know how to do something really well, maybe put this at the service of others and raise some money for a cause you care about;
  • Be grateful and think positive, this will be just another experience that we will add to our lives, for as ugly as it has been. We have also a lot to learn from it!
Of course, my mood is so bright as I am assuming that all this will be over soon and that this summer I will be able to swim in my beloved Italian sea and sunbath on my beloved Italian beaches. I will be able to hug and kiss my family and friends and go out wherever and whenever I feel like. Also, all my dear ones will be in great shape and health. If this shouldn't be the case, well, let's see how my mood will be.

Interesting links:

- Museums that you can visit online:

- Cirque du Soleil online:

- Online classes about different subjects:

- Yoga with Kassandra – she’s super good:

- 20 Days of Live Meditation with Jay Shetty – quite nice if you’re new to meditation:

Much love and stay safe!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Traveling solo in Turkey: if you can think of it, you can do it

Before leaving for a solo trip to Turkey in spring 2019, I had been to Istanbul already twice and this city had literally stolen my heart. I will never understand people who don't travel to the same place ever again. I think going back to places you love helps you to understand them better, get to know people, culture, traditions, music, way of living, food, streets, markets, political climate, atmosphere and anything related to that place in a way that you'll never grasp by visiting only once, shortly and randomly. This time, I had more time on my side to organize my way around Turkey and what I had in mind was to visit, after stopping by in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus.

First stop: Magic Istanbul

I stopped in Istanbul for a week. I rented a room thru Airbnb and stayed at the place of a very nice guy, soft-spoken, very direct, half Turkish-half Zaza (an ethnic group which might have its origins in Persia), ex-architect, now musician and photographer. His apartment was located in a local area near Taksim square, convenient and yet far enough from mass tourism, where you could enjoy local markets, local tea-houses with their typical small chairs and tables and where the majority of Syrian refugees found shelter, in this difficult historical time. Uygar, this is the name of my host, met me at the main door of his building with a big smile under his long, black beard - he was a bit late for the check-in, so I started hand-speaking with an old lady that was resting on a small step in front of the building - and the first thing he told me while running towards me was a sort of apologetic: "Welcome to the fucking Middle-East!". Starting from that moment, I knew that I was in the right place, I LOVE Middle-East so freaking much!***

***some weeks after I started writing this article I did a DNA test to discover my ethnic origins and, of course, I am almost 3% Middle-Eastern! Now it is clear why I keep on traveling to this part of the world and feel home every time I do :) 

Süleymaniye Mosque
During my week in Istanbul, thanks to Uygar's precious advises, I visited areas of the city where I had never been before, and my favorite neighborhood became, above all, Balat, in the Jewish area of Istanbul, with his cute Vodina Caddesi (in Turkish, "caddesi" means "street") full of nice bars and restaurants where to take a break and simply chill. I was also introduced to cool - kind of hipster - bars, where they host live music jazz concerts. One evening I went out with a Kurdish guy, a friend of Uygar, who made Raki for living (the typical anise-flavored liquor) and was visiting Istanbul for a couple of nights. Although he didn't speak one word of English and we communicated all evening thru Google Translate, we had the best time at BOVA, listening to a Turkish jazz band. I was also surprised by the fact that Uygar spoke Kurdish fluently and that his friend spoke Turkish fluently, and that their group of friends was all mixed, despite the fact that media want us to believe that they hate each other - actually, once again, it's all a matter of politics, as people just want to live in peace and make good friends, regardless their ethnic origins. 
On a Saturday night, I went out with Uygar to a farewell party of a dear friend of him, who was moving from Istanbul to...Brussels!!! The very same city I had lived in for 7 years! So I found myself giving advises on places to visit and stuff to do, once she would get there. That same evening, I went from a bar to another, passed by a very entertaining gay show, met a guy whose dad had left Turkey 3 years ago to travel around the world on his motorbike, putting the entire business in the hands of his son, who still didn't know when his dad would get back, and finally managed to be back home around 4am thinking: what a nice, regular,  made in Istanbul night! Uygar also taught me how to prepare Turkish coffee, introduced me to the best, pleasant, calm Turkish music every morning and prepared for me a very nice Turkish dinner, when both of us and one of his friends were home. After this experience, I believe that Airbnb in a shared apartment with someone local is the best way to experience how life goes on in a specific place and to make friends that will stay in your life, in a way or another. Also, going out with these guys made me realize once more how human beings are all the same and how we just want the same things in life: living in peace, having a good time, loving and been loved. Right as I write I hear speaking about Turkey attacking Kurdish territories...when I was in Istanbul people were just friends to each other, loved each other and would never make war against each other. People want peace, politicians maybe not. Sorry if I am repeating myself. 

Turkish Chai
During my previous visits in Istanbul, I had never visited the Asian part of the city, which, surprisingly enough, is also the most organized and less crowded one, full of restaurants and bars that serve European food and Western vibes. Oh Istanbul, I love all your contradictions! Hold-on - let me take a step back just for a sec: during my stay in Brussels, somewhere in 2011, I met a lovely girl from Istanbul, who became, quickly enough, a dear friend of mine. She left Brussels one year before I did and relocated to Istanbul, after more than 15 years living abroad. Of course, the first thing I did before traveling to Turkey was to contact her and after almost 6 years we finally managed to meet again, in the magic city of Istanbul. She took me to Kadikoy, the part of Istanbul where she lives, and where the majority of educated, "upper-class" expats relocate. This area is super nice, you can reach it via bus and also via ferry from Eminonu. In this area - the Asian one, indeed - you can find fancy shops, bars and restaurants where all tastes are satisfied, from typical local Turkish food to international and more sophisticated choices. With my friend we spoke a lot about the way of living in Turkey, how relationships between men and women work - pretty much same as in Europe, as human beings are all the same, after all, with the same desires and wishes - and, although it is a Muslim country, I discovered that Tinder is widely used for dating and that people divorce and have affairs and struggle as in any other part of the world. She mentioned that sometimes it is hard to be back in a more conservative country, after so many years spent in Northern Europe. The political and economical situation of the country doesn't help, with an inflation that is never under control and people that can't afford leaving the country, not even for holidays, in the majority of the cases. Not to speak about freedom of expression, that sometimes is just non-existing. On the other side, she seemed also quite happy to be back home, close to her family and old friends, being able to go to the beach house for the weekend, eating great food for little money, working for an international company and yet being in her own country. I believe that there are always good sides and bad sides in any choices we make, the important is to understand what counts the most for us in a specific moment of our lives. Meeting with her, wandering around the city and getting good insights from her on the place I was discovering and living in that moment, was one of the most pleasant things that I have done during my trip. Thank you so much!

Another place I visited for the first time was Ortakoy with its cute little mosque and the typical potatoes based dish, Kumpir. If you get the chance, go there for a nice afternoon facing the Bosporus!
Another thing that you shouldn't miss, of course, is the Turkish Hammam. I went to the Cagaloglu Hamami, in the city center, a bit pricey but you won't regret. Total relax. Also the public ones are quite good, if you are in for cheaper options!
Istanbul is an amazing city with lots of things to see, from bazaars, to mosques, from spice shops to rooftop bars and restaurants, from fresh juices kiosks to hipsters bars, from gay friendly spaces to Turkish baths and much much more...just get lost among its streets, people and smells and enjoy the city to the fullest! You can really find everything and its contrary in Istanbul and that's the beauty of this city.

Cool places where to hang out in Istanbul:

Live Jazz Concert:

Kuçe Yemek Kolektifi
Felafel Tyros

Second stop: from Istanbul to Cappadocia

There are different options to get to Cappadocia: either by bus or by plane. At first, I had chosen to take a night bus and while I was trying to book my ticket online (quite difficult if you're not Turkish, as they ask for your national ID number), I discovered that there are assigned places for men and women! Meaning that you can't book a seat next to a man, but only next to another woman. Consequence was that all seats for women were taken on the bus I wanted to take and my only option was to book a flight, which was not that bad, at the end :)
Usually Turkish Airlines has fixed prices for all locations within Turkey and buying the ticket 2 days in advance was rather cheap so, at the end, I recommend traveling by plane.
I arrived in Cappadocia in the evening and was picked-up by a collective bus which I had arranged with my guest-house beforehand and that brought me and another bunch of guys straight to Goreme. I highly advise you to liaise with the place you're staying for the transfer from the airport, as there is no public service for that, and especially in the evening can be rather challenging to find transportation. 
I chose to stay in Goreme as it is the most lively and central village of Cappadocia, and from there you can easily move to all locations you'd like to visit in the area. In Cappadocia, you can easily move by public buses, for 4 liras- the equivalent of 0,60 cents of euro - you can go from point A to point B and they are well organized and quite on time!
In Cappadocia I visited Goreme Open Air Museum, Zelve Open Air Museum, The Love Valley, The Fairy-Tales Chimneys, Derinkuyo Underground City (on a very cold and snowy day, staying underground was indeed the only option), Avanos, which is the city of ceramics,  Cavusin, with its nice mosque, the Rose Valley, the Red Valley. I have to say that Cappadocia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to: it seems like being on a parallel planet, made of strange rocks with the weirdest shapes, colored valleys, cute tiny villages, amazing art-craft products, among which colorful carpets, ceramics, pillows, good luck objects for the interiors of the house and so many more nice things that you can bring back with you or get shipped for little money. I love filling my house with objects I collect during my trips, it makes it so colorful and always gives me something to speak about when I have guests over ;-)
While you're busy wandering around, I advise you to stop and rest in few of the different tea-houses to drink some hot, delicious çay. Generally speaking, and maybe I already said that, I loved the food in Turkey so much! Lentils soup with lemon drops and pancakes with potatoes, spinach and cheese were part of my daily diet <3 
And now, let's speak about the MUST DO in Cappadocia: the HOT AIR BALLOON! 
Did I do it? Yes
Was it worth it? Oh Yes!
Would I recommend it? Triple yes!
Did I book it in advance? Nope.
Do I advise to book it in advance? Not really.

Actually, before going to Cappadocia I wasn't really sure that I wanted to go on a hot air balloon...In my eyes it was a kind of touristic trap, and I wanted to see how it looked like once I was there. Once I arrived in Cappadocia, I realized that it is the best place to have that kind of experience, if you really want to. The territory is unique and seeing it from above was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever done. 
To my big surprise, all people I met had booked their spot way in advance, in some cases months in advance, while for me was rather easy to arrange it directly with my guesthouse for a very reasonable price: 150 euro for 1 hour - please note that I was traveling off season, while in summer time or during official holidays the prices raise quite a bit. I was also lucky because the day I was booked it finally stopped snowing and the experience was amazing! Usually, the tours are made for sunrise, early in the morning. You can also watch the balloons go up from the viewpoints in Goreme or from one of the many hotel terraces - they charge a small fee - if you want to get into one. I did both things, meaning that I woke up at 5am for 2 days in a row ;-)

Third stop: from Cappadocia to Pamukkale on a 10 hours night bus - this was a true adventure and one of the scariest moments of my life!

With lots of sadness, after about a week in Cappadocia, I decided to leave this amazing place and move on to the next one: Pamukkale!

I took a night bus which left Cappadocia at 8pm and was supposed to arrive in Pamukkale at 6am the day after. I had also arranged my hotel right in front of the site, so that I would arrive, fall asleep for a couple of hours and then visit the pools and the Hierapolis. My plan was perfect and perfectly organized BUT, as we all know, things in life don't always go according to plans...
As soon as I got on the bus I fell asleep and was awaken at around 1am, when we stopped for a break in a huge and extremely crowded bus hub, somewhere in Western Turkey. I quickly went to the toilet and when I returned to the platform where the bus had stopped I discovered that my bus was not there anymore, puff, gone, vanished! PANIC ATTACK! I went back and forth checking all platforms but nothing, my bus wasn't there. I had left on it my laptop, my tablet and, of course, my luggage with all my stuff! Thankfully, I had on me my passport, my cards, my phone and my bus ticket, which I started to show to a couple of bus drivers, hoping that they could help me in understanding what the heck had just happened! But nothing, nobody spoke one single word of English. However,  my terrified face said it all: I didn't even know where I was and if I would ever see my belongings again, all this in the middle of the night, in a bus station, in Turkey, which might not exactly be the safest country for a girl traveling alone. A guy who must have realized my panic, indicated me the police office, so off I went and showed my ticket to an officer. He brought me to the stand of the bus company - which was open, thanks God! - and, after google translating what had happened to me that night, they just told me that the bus had gone to put fuel and would be back soon. I shall wait on the platform 32 - I will never forget that number. I literally kidnapped the police officer, who I am sure had better things to do that night, and had him wait together with me. He was super kind, reassuring me that they would come back to pick me up. And they did, 30 minutes later, the longest 30 minutes of my life. I think they had just forgotten me there! Lesson learnt from this experience: I have to leave the bus always with someone else, or tell other passengers to look for me before the bus leaves, when I am traveling alone, always! So, at 6.30am, I finally arrived in Pamukkale, with a couple of additional grey hair but super happy to be there. As originally planned, I slept for a couple of hours and then got to the site, still quite early. The place is amazing, with its pools - where I also managed to take a bath - the Roman ruins, the Amphitheater. I advise to get there early in the morning, as this place gets overcrowded by tourists quite quickly. One night stay in the village is enough, it's just one street and apart from the travertines (terraces), there is nothing much to see. You can, however, take an hot air balloon here too, but I can't really say how it is and how much does it cost.


So, the day after, I catch a public bus from Pamukkale till the city of Denizli and from there a super modern and comfortable train till the city of Selçuk, where the ancient ruins of Ephesus are. The city itself is super nice, and it's worth to spend there a couple of days. The ruins are also quite amazing, however I advise you to get a guide in order to understand better what you are looking at and what it represented in the past. 
Once in Selçuk, I also visited the village of Sirince, an ancient Greek village where they produce the best fruity wine and make the tastiest Turkish coffee. It is a small village up in the mountains, you get there by public bus from Selcuk,  which leaves each 20 minutes. 




Turkish Coffee in Sirince
After Sirince, I jumped onto another night bus and got back to Istanbul to spend additional two nights in my favorite city. This time, I booked a room thru Airbnb with 2 Pakistani guys who were working in a hair transplant clinic - Turkey is very famous for this kind of surgery, and I discovered that many people, from all over the world, go there to get a hair transplant. On the plane back home, I saw many guys with their red dotted heads and black bands on their forehead to keep anesthesia from going down, they seemed quite in pain, having their hair removed from their chest or beard, but also satisfied for having finally their hair back, in a couple of months ;-) 
The place where I was staying was located in a very conservative area of the city, where women would wear black burquas and you'd find a mosque each 5 meters. I enjoyed this change from the modern Taksim Square, where I was previously staying, and especially enjoyed the very spicy Pakistani dinners these lovely guys cooked for me. We sat on the floor around a round table, ate with our hands, and discussed about life, relationships, work, families, the very same way I would discuss with anyone. Traveling makes me realize every time that human beings are more similar than what they want us to believe and that good people are the majority, in this amazing world. It was almost Ramadan, so we went off to markets to buy any kind of food and get ready to celebrate! But for me, unfortunately, it was already time to leave this amazing country. My hearth was full of memories, adventures, people, smells, colors, tastes and emotions. Alhamdulillah!  

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Brazil, everybody so crazy about it...and me? May be

Would I recommend Brazil? Probably I would not put it on top of your bucket list, if you still have other countries to visit in this wonderful world :-)
In my opinion, Brazil, and especially Rio, are very much overrated, and my expectations certainly didn't match the reality, at least when it comes the places I visited. 
To be completely honest with you, I was never really attracted to this country...however I had to decide where to go for my winter break and a friend of mine living in Brussels told me that she would go there, and why not to meet in Rio and spend some days together? Another friend from Naples spent in Brazil many winters in the past, working only for the summer season in Italy. He simply loved it and still had a very good friend in Arraial Do Cabo -  who runs a hostel and could host me - apparently one of the most beautiful coasts of Brazil. The day I would arrive in Arraial, it would also be his birthday and I was already invited on a boat party, even before booking my ticket! ☺☺☺☺☺
Not to speak about another dear friend from Naples - who I had met in Vietnam back in 2014 - and now living in Paraguay, who would join me at the Iguazu Falls just to say hello and have dinner together...this would be a solo trip but with a lot of nice people to meet and moments to share, so I was easily in: let's book a ticket to Rio!

The trip: Rome-Casablanca-Rio with the worse company you can fly with, Royal Air Maroc  

I booked a quite cheap ticket, but you get what you pay for, and in this case I wish I'd paid more to avoid the trouble!
My flight from Rome to Casablanca was right on time, however, once arrived in Morocco, the plane kept on flying over Casablanca's sky for over 40 minutes, making the coincidence to Rio VERY challenging to take! I asked to the staff on board and they reassured me that we would make it, that it was the same airline and the plane would NEVER leave without us on board. We land, run to the gate and discover that all our tickets have been CANCELLED and the plane to Rio is about to take off, leaving back in Casablanca 10 people (including me) that were supposed to be on that plane! There were also many other people going to San Paolo who had missed their coincidence and, in that transit area, there was just a big chaos, as I had never seen before in an airport. People arguing, the ground staff unable to speak  English nor to help, people crying as they had flights booked from Brazil to other countries of South America, which they would not be able to take...and the options that the airline offered were terrible: option 1: stay 2 days!!! in Casablanca and take the next flight to Rio; option 2: fly the day after to San Paolo and then take another flight to Rio or get there by bus! I didn't feel as any of these options were feasible and got hope when someone from the staff told us that there were 2 seats on an AirFrance flight leaving in the evening from Casablanca and going to Paris and then Rio. The problem was that we were 10 people versus 2 tickets. One of the tickets went to an Italian doctor, who said that he had to perform a surgery in Rio that could not be postponed (only later I found out that it was not true). And the second ticket? I needed to come up with something in order to make sure it would be mine...and enlightenment came: I proposed to take into account the date in which we booked the original flight - it was March and I had booked mine in early February, therefore I had good chances...and...indeed! Following this criteria the ticket to Rio was mine! I would arrive in Rio with 7 hours delay, better than 2 days! 
The flight to Rio was made interesting, indeed, by the Italian doctor, who admitted that he had no surgery in Rio and just wanted to get there ASAP. He worked between Italy and Brazil his entire life, and got divorced when, some years ago, the Italian news showed on TV the Carnival in Rio and his wife saw him drunk, dancing samba in the middle of the crowd, when he was supposed to be in a medical congress in the US! After the divorce, he bought an attic in Ipanema and since then visited Rio many times a year...

Finally landed: Rio!           
Once landed, I took a local bus who brought me to Ipanema, where I had booked my hostel. If you're traveling alone, I can definitely recommend the Mango Tree, as the facilities are very good and it's located in one of the safest neighborhood of Rio, just one block away from Ipanema beach. 
The first day I went to the beach, walked all the way to Copacabana and ate a huge Açai cream bowl, which would become my favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner during all my stay in Brazil :-)

Açai cream bowl - BEST EVER
What I loved the most about Rio De Janeiro:

1. Visiting the Rocinha Favela

I didn't want to leave Rio without going to one of its Favelas and visiting the biggest one of South America seemed to me the best option to try to understand the reality of this place and people living in it. I was fortunate enough to visit Rocinha with a guy who grew up in that Favela, who was able to tell me where to go and where not to, what to take picture of and what to avoid, he brought me in some narrow streets where I would never have ventured alone, explained to me the various charity activities in the Favela, told me about all the foreigners volunteering and living in it. We went there on a Sunday and it was quite nice to see people barbecuing, kids playing in the streets and festive vibes. To me, it didn't seem a place known for tremendous violence and crime. 

If you want to visit this Favela, you can contact Junior via Instagram, he speaks very good English and is a trustworthy guy :-)


2. Going to the BIP BIP bar in Copacabana: 

This bar opened in 1968 and has made the story of bossa nova music and samba in Rio. All major singers and bands have performed there at least once, and every night you can find established or emerging artists performing in a relaxed, local atmosphere. The bar has only few tables inside and few outside, so the majority of people just stand and listen to live music. There is a fridge inside where you can grab as many beers as you want, indicating to the owner, Alfredinho, sitting outside on his old wooden desk, every time you take one. He writes the number down in a very old book and, at the end of the evening, you get your bill. Another peculiar thing of the BIP BIP bar is that it is forbidden to clap while artists perform. According to Alfredinho, clapping produces too much noise and this can distract people playing. As alternative, people can show their appreciation by snapping fingers, definitely more discreet.

BIP BIP - The cutest Bossa Nova bar in Rio
3. Live samba in Pedra do Sal on Monday evening 

I had read about this event before going to Rio and once arrived at the hostel, I asked to the guy at the Reception about it. He told me that going there was dangerous for foreigners, it was far away, and he would not advise me to go. In the meanwhile, my friend from Brussels had arrived in Rio and, of course, we decided to rent an Uber - which I totally recommend - and go dance samba in the center! Pedra do Sal is indeed quite far from Ipanema, maybe 30 minutes drive, but that place on Monday evening is bustling with energy! Lots of locals out of the office just going there to have a drink and dance, lots of foreigners having fun and experiencing local vibes, lots of bands playing in the tiny streets of that area, and I remember thinking: "what a wonderful place is South America and how many things to explore which give us happiness outside of our comfort zone!"

These 2 neighborhoods are located in the center of Rio. 
Santa Teresa is quite nice to visit during the day, as you can take the historical tram (bondinho, as they call it locally) and hop off in the different areas of the neighbor. There are a lot of hand-craft local shops and a nice architecture, being this a liberty area. In Santa Teresa you can also find the very colorful and overcrowded Escadaria Selaron and I wish you good luck in taking pics without people on your back! Be careful in going to the this area during the night, as it becomes quite dangerous and minor crimes happen on a regular basis. 
On the contrary, during the night you can go to Lapa, where you can still find nice liberty architecture, which reminds Europe very much, and lots of clubs and bar where you cal chill and have a drink accompanied by local live music.

Lapa by night

Bondinho :)
Liberty in Santa Teresa
5. Cristo Redentor, Pão de Açúcar and the views!

Of course, if you go to Rio, you can't miss the Cristo Redentor, the most touristic attraction ever and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World! In reality, it's not really the statue which is charming, at least not to me - we've got a very similar one in Italy, in Maratea - nor the crowd that you find once on the top, nor the hundreds souvenir shops, not the fight that you need to have in order to get a picture with the statue and/or the landscape without having someone else's nose in your cheek. The very nice thing about this visit is the way to get up there: you take a small funicular that brings you all the way up to the Corcovado Mountain , passing literally thru a tropical rain forest, the Tijuca Forest, where you see crazy nature and animals. The view from the top is amazing, of course! Same thing goes for the Sugarloaf mountain, the views on the entire city and the nature up there are marvelous! Both visits are really nice to do, even if you need to prepare yourself to big crowds, which I don't particularly enjoy...

From Cristo Redentor
From Sugarloaf 

6. The nature 

Rio has developed among mountains and rain forests and while walking on the street you don't know anymore if you are in a city or in a jungle! Huge trees, plants, flowers are all over the city, it was the first time that I saw orchids growing directly out of the trunk of trees! 

Nature in Rio
Ipanema's streets
7. Shopping havaianas flip-flops like there is no tomorrow! 

Obviously, you can choose among all types of havaianas, they're cheap and you can't find the same models outside of Brazil! 💖

What I was disappointed about in Rio de Janeiro:      

1. Ipanema and Copacabana beaches

Crazy to say, one of the things that disappointed me the most in Rio were Ipanema and Copacabana. I believe that we all have the myth of these two beaches, and once I got there I was super disappointed by the state of them. They were dirty, overcrowded, with vendors trying to sell you anything from sarong to caipirinha, from massages to icecreams, from beach dresses to music speakers, as a result, you have people constantly shouting in your ears. In addition, you have to pay constant attention to your belongings - better not to bring anything to the beach if not little money and a towel. Unfortunately, these beaches are the hot-spot for thieves and people from favelas, who pick up empty cans left by other people on the beach, with big black garbage bags, going back and forth all day, who might stop and take stuff from you, if given the occasion. This is the way the world goes, it can happen everywhere, however being not able to relax when you are alone at the beach and nobody can watch your stuff is quite annoying. In Rio, you just have to pay some extra attention. 

2. The food

Thanks God I am not a vegetarian! There is very little variety in Brazilian food - based mostly on meat - and even if I am not a vegetarian, after few days, I was kind of bored of eating meat or, in alternative, spinach, especially when it comes to quick snacks! I remember asking to someone: "would you have something without meat?" and the guy: "sure, I have this, cheese and ham!"... 
However, I was able to eat very good fish dishes in other parts of Brazil, so this mostly applies to Rio - Thanks God for Açai bowls and international Sushi! 
Speaking about meat, if you want to eat a very good picanha, probably the best of Rio, I advise you to go to the Garota de Ipanema, historical restaurant in Ipanema neighbor. 

3. The Westernization of Rio

Never have expectations when visiting a new country! This was, definitely, my mistake :-) 
I thought I would find more local culture, local shops, hand-crafts, something different from what I am used to...I hoped I would "concretely" feel in another world, which is the feeling that I love the most when traveling so far away from home and especially to South America! But nope, Rio feels like any other Western city, big shopping malls, chains of shops one after the other, you can find pretty much anything you are used to, so, from that point of view, not much emotion.  

4. The markets

When I visit a new city, I never miss local markets. I find them the best way to watch local people and their habits, to understand what they eat, what they wear, how they interact, how they negotiate based on local prices Rio, local markets, i.e. Copacabana, were mostly for tourists and they sold lots of Chinese stuff, pretty kitsch, so I was quite disappointed, as I love buying local hand-made traditional stuff and bring it home with me. 

The only market which I really enjoyed was the Sunday Hippie Market in Ipanema, totally recommended and with lots of nice stuff!

Next stop: the unbelievable Iguazu Falls! 

I took an internal flight from Rio to Foz do Iguaçu, in the Brazilian state of Paraná, in order to see one of the most magnificent natural wonders on this planet: the Iguazu Falls! This was, without any doubts, my favorite part of the trip! 

I went to the Iguazu Falls by myself and the next morning I met with my friend from Naples and his Brazilian girlfriend who now both live in Asunción, Paraguay. They drove all night to Iguazu just to see me and spend the day together. We went to the Brazilian side of the Falls, and I thought it was amazing, so much powerful nature! This because I still hadn't seen the Argentinian side, where I would go the day after, by myself, and that brought me to tears for how beautiful, powerful, touching it was. To go to Puerto Iguazu (Argentinian side), there are local buses from Foz that leave you at the border, then you have to cross it, get your passport stamped, and then take another local bus that brings you to the bus terminal and then take another bus to the Falls (approximately 40 minutes). I have to say that everything goes quite smoothly, it is a line that works all day long and you always find coincidences going to both sides. In Puerto Iguazu you have about the 80% of the Falls. I decided to walk, approximately 3 hours, and explore the different parts of this natural reserve. What I remember are the endless and colorful butterflies, the numerous rainbows, the powerful noise of the waters and magnificent views of the cataratas! If you go either to Brazil or to Argentina, you can't miss this!
In Foz do Iguaçu I was staying in a super cool, clean, modern hostel (Concept Design Hostel), which also has a swimming pool where to chill in the afternoon and it is located in the center of Foz, where you have all the buses going to the Falls. Totally recommended!  
Brazilian side, imagine the Argentinian one! Must be seen with your own eyes
From water to water: Foz do Iguaçu to Arraial do Cabo

Flight from Foz to Rio, bus from Rio airport to Rio bus terminal, bus from Rio bus terminal to Arraial do Cabo bus terminal! 
NEVER have expectations about a place! This time though, it was not my fault! My friend from Naples, who had spent many winter seasons in Arraial, had always told me that this place was paradise on earth...deserted beaches, turtles swimming in crystal clear waters, only few locals spending their holidays there, in simple worlds: pristine nature and quietness. Too bad that 10 years had passed since last time my friend was in Arraial and MANY things had changed. The beaches were overcrowded, full of umbrellas from beach resorts, vendors of any kind, families with their portable fridges eating all together and listening to loud music...not that I have anything in contrary to that, but I can find exactly the same things in the South of Italy, without having to go so far ;-) When I travel to exotic destinations, especially involving the sea element, it is usually to find silence, stillness and as little, little humanity. So, if you go Praia Do Forno, you know what to expect. Forget about the Instagram pics you saw so far. And also be aware that because of the hill on the back of the beach, the sun goes away around 4pm, at least in March. I was supposed to stay in Arraial 5 nights, I only spent there 2.   
The day after Praia Do Forno, I bought a ticket for a boat trip that would bring me island hopping. I arrived at the harbor and I found hell on earth, instead of paradise! Sooo many of these boats leaving to do exactly the same tour, they gave you a colored card and asked to wait in "line", which, obviously, wasn't a line but just a big mess of people. Once your color was called via a microphone - because of the huge crowd, you really had to pay extra attention in order not to miss your color and boat! -  you could jump on the boat, which clearly carried more people than it could, and I barely had space to seat. The entire boat trip was an alternation of too-loud-for-my-taste reggaeton songs, half-naked women drinking beers, taking selfies and posting instantaneously on social medias, while their little kids looked like they wanted to be anywhere but there, given also the heat of that day. Generally speaking, I didn't find the waters in Arraial so astonishing as they are described. Actually, I didn't find waters in that specific coast of Brazil particularly beautiful, however, I did see a turtle swimming! However, I do have a very good memory of Arraial do Cabo, which is the boat b-day party of Tulio, who was my contact in Arraial. A very local, private boat party: we jumped on the boat around 2pm, ate all sorts of grilled meat, drank all sorts of super tasty caipirinhas, tasted all sorts of local sweets, danced all sorts of reggaeton music - including 1 to 1 lessons on how to shake asses the Brazilian way - and jumped off the boat at I don't remember exactly what time of the night...that was fun!

Goodbye Arraial, Hello Ilha Grande and Paraty 

Ilha Grande was, together with the Iguazu Falls, the only place that I really wanted to visit. The island is entirely made of jungle, there are no cars, no roads, only jungle and wild paths to get to the beaches. The reflection of the jungle into the sea waters, makes the sea itself totally green, and this is the most peculiar aspect of the island. However, the beaches that can be reached by foot, and also some of those reachable by boat, are, in my opinion, quite disappointing. Not the beach itself, with palm trees and clear sand, but the waters...not crystal clear as I imagined, also because of all the boats going around packed with tourists  and the fact that I saw, with my own eyes, people washing them with very heavy soaps right on the shore, making the waters polluted and bubbly without taking into any consideration the preservation of the environment and people swimming right next to them! But Ilha Grande is linked to what made my trip to Brazil not so night I was going back to the hostel when I saw a BIG sign saying that on that island there was yellow fever and that people not vaccinated should not be there. I had met an Italian living in Rio during my first days in Brazil who told me that there had been a yellow fever outbreak that same year, a lot of people died and I should get the vaccine while I was still in Rio, as it was free, also for travelers. I thought that Italians are always dramatic, and totally disregarded that information. I wish I didn't...actually I wish I'd informed myself before leaving to Brazil! Once I read that sign, I run into the hostel and asked to the owner about it...she looked at me in shock:"are you not vaccinated?! on the island everybody is, last month 17 people died, including foreigners that didn't get the vaccination!" The worse thing was that nowhere I had slept, I saw mosquitoes nets, nor anybody local, apart from the Italian guy, had told me anything about this. Obviously, I panicked big time, also because I had been bitten by mosquitoes on the island! The day after I took the first boat to the mainland - not before having bought the most powerful and quite poisoning repellent ever - where the first guy I met at the bus stop asked me: "are you coming from the island? it's dangerous there, there is yellow fever, are you vaccinated?". Then I thought that the situation was really BAD. I jumped on the first local bus to Paraty, 3 hours drive in the middle of the fields, with rain pouring into the bus, and the driver protected behind a sort of cage...I arrived in Paraty in the evening and spent there a couple of nights. Paraty is super nice and safe, the most colonial city of Brazil, which I would definitely include if you travel to this country :)
After Paraty, I went back to Rio for a couple of days and then back home.

Ilha Grande
Interesting people I met during this trip:

- The Italian doctor who faked to have a surgery to perform in Rio in order to get one of the two Air France tickets;
- The Italian guy who lived in Rio for the past 10 years and had just opened a snack in the center, who was so kind to give me all the info on where to get vaccinated against yellow fever. We had a nice chat about Rio and how much it had changed in the past years;
- An Argentinian girl from Patagonia who was so nice to adopt me in her double private room at the hostel - when I came back to Rio from Paraty I only found a place in a 12 people dorm - and she saved me big time by having me stay with her. We spent together the last few days in Rio and we are still in contact;
- A Brazilian doctor who came from a small village and hadn't had yet the courage to confess to his family and friends that he was gay, for the fear of being judged and not accepted. I had once more the confirmation that the world is very similar, and so are human beings;
- A Canadian guy who had lived basically everywhere, trading precious gems.