Travelling Leila

My impressions about the places I visit

Archive for the tag “Shopping”

Hong Kong – Day 4

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3 December 2013

Today was the Big Shopping day. From travel blogging perspective, it may not be the most exciting event ever, but since we’re all human and nothing human is alien to us, it’s still worth touching this topic.

All guidebooks scream that Hong Kong is a great place for shopping, primarily due to the free trade regime. So people flock here from all over the world. In particular, I doubt that anywhere in the world one can find as many jewellery stores as there are here, and none of them stays empty and clientless. Literally on every corner in the central areas there is a Chow Tai Fook store, with slightly less stores of the competing Luk Fook and Chow Sang Sang chains.

If Singapore created the impression that the main idea was to feed as much people as possible, so there were all kinds of eateries pretty much at every turn, it looks like Hong Kong’s ‘task’ is, of course, selling as many goods as possible, so almost at every step you come across malls, shops, stores, outlets etc.

We ended up heading to Harbour City, which is one of the biggest malls. It’s probably that we didn’t have much time to understand how it was all structured there, but we were left with a feeling of randomness – for example, in comparison with Westfield in London. There everything is crystal clear with high fashion brands being concentrated in one section and more democratic brands in a totally different one. Here everything is mixed, and the logic of locating the stores remained totally unclear to us. All the stores were very nicely decorated (Christmas is coming up!) and Christmas songs sounded everywhere, most of which, though, with the exception of the famous Jingle Bells, seemed too schmaltzy and cloying.

One of the must-do things planned for this trip was having a proper dim sum lunch, and we found that the best place to do so was Tim Ho Wan – it is a chain of restaurants, looking more like small eateries, but with a Michelin star, and by the way, being the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. At lunchtime there are always lots of people queuing outside. Everyone gets an order sheet with their number in the queue, so while waiting they could decide what they are getting and tick off those items. When seats become available, the waiters shout out the numbers – not necessarily in order, but rather depending on how many seats there are – in Cantonese, but if they see any non-Chinese among the people waiting, it can be repeated in English too.

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Many people think of dim sum as a variety of dumplings, while in reality it is not just dumplings, but rather a general assortment of small snacks to be consumed together with pu er tea. Originally it was part of the tea ceremony in southern China, and this traditional tea drinking, or “yum cha”, took place in tea houses in the morning. Now “yum cha” has moved to special dim sum restaurants, like Tim Ho Wan, and not necessarily happens in the morning, but still mostly before mid-afternoon.

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We absolutely loved everything we ordered, which included prawn dumplings (har gow), rice noodle rolls (cheong fun) with Cantonese BBQ pork (char siu), steamed egg cake, medlar & osmanthus jelly. We ate until we were totally full, and it cost only HK $ 112 for two (which makes U.S. $14-15 or 11-12 AZN).

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Singapore – Day 2

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25 November 2013

One gets used to everything very quickly: while yesterday the York Hotel hurt the eye by its huge empty halls, today it feels like that’s exactly how it should be.

As always, our formal introduction to the city started with a hop on-hop off bus tour. As one may guess, there are not (and can’t be) many old historical attractions, perhaps only a few Victorian-style buildings. Modern architecture looks interesting: the skyscrapers are not merely concrete towers, but something of fancy and whimsical shapes, and rather than standing each by itself, they form groups, located accorded to feng shui.

Singapore Buildings

Singapore Buildings

Mandarin Oriental

Singapore Business Centre

Singapore

Singapore

Again as always, we started with a full circle on the bus, just staring around, and then made our first hop off in Chinatown, for a detailed acquaintance. We were immediately lured into a street market with all kinds of souvenirs and various Chinese goods. Apart from the usual vendors, there were also stalls touting Chinese calligraphy and offering to write our names in Chinese. These calligraphy scrolls looked so exquisitely pretty that I got tempted.

Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown

My Name in Chinese

Then it suddenly started raining heavily, and we hurried to take refuge in the nearest Chinese restaurant. It was completely empty when we just arrived, which seemed suspicious, but eventually everything turned out delicious (more details to follow in the “gastronomic” post), and the place got quite busy too.

Once we treated ourselves to some physical food, we turned to spiritual one and visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It left a very enlightened and peaceful sensation, probably because Buddhism is one of the religions that focus on the person itself, its development and enhancement. The walls of the temple are adorned with statues of the Buddha, each having the same enigmatic half-smile, but with a different hand gesture, each of which apparently has its own meaning.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Another temple located in Chinatown, oddly enough, is the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple. While the Chinese temple had the shape of a pagoda, of course, the dome roof of this one represented a truncated pyramid, dotted with a motley crowd of multi-coloured statues of various deities. We did not go inside, as we would have had to take our shoes off, which would leave us completely barefoot.

Sri Mariamman Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple

The next thing we wanted to visit was Little India, but somehow we ended up going to the Marina Bay waterfront promenade instead. This is the area where Singapore’s financial centre is located, and it’s these skyscrapers that have the most intricate shape. The granite-paved promenade itself is surprisingly unfrequented (compared, for example, with Hong Kong’s waterfront, where we saw crowds of people).

Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Flyer

Singapore Flyer

Singapore

Singapore - Bras Basah

Orchard Road

Singapore Business Centre

Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay (The "Durians")

Merlion

Singapore Business Centre

Singapore

Singapore - Christmas Decorations

Singapore

Our main goal of getting off the bus at this particular stop was visiting the observation deck at Marina Bay Sands, and enjoy the night view of the city – we were already all in anticipation of how awesome the illuminated Singapore would look. In order to pass the time while waiting for nightfall, we took a river cruise on a very slow boat, enjoying the view of low colonial-style buildings along the banks of the Singapore River.

Singapore River

Singapore Business Centre

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

Before it even started getting dark, we got caught in a terrible tropical thundershower, and luckily enough, it started when we were about to disembark the boat, so we could quickly take shelter under the roof of The Shoppes mall at Marina Bay, from the windows of which we could observe a dense wall of water, pouring from the sky.

The Shoppes at Marina Bay

The decision was made instantly, and we headed to the food court to have dinner while waiting for the shower to be over! I really loved the whole idea of this food court, with pretty much all Asian (and not only Asian) cuisine represented here: Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Malaysian, Hakka, Hong Kong, Singaporean, Indian, Teochew, etc., as well as Italian and Mexican.

While we were queuing for the observation deck tickets, the staff honestly warned us: it was an open deck, the rain could resume any moment and we wouldn’t get our money back in that case. But we took the risk (and the lift to the 56th floor!) and stepped onto the wet, slippery observation deck with an absolutely magical view! Needless to say, right at the entrance we were literally forced to be photographed against a green background just to be subsequently photoshopped onto the view of the city. They then tried to foist the resulting photo on us for 50 singadollars, but we stubbornly refused to fork out and instead took tons of pictures ourselves.

Finally it started raining again, although not very heavily, and we got all wet, but really, this sight together with the laser and fountain show were well worth it!

Singapore at Night

Singapore at Night

Singapore at Night

Singapore at Night

Singapore at Night

Singapore at Night

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ischia Porto

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All this sightseeing is nice and interesting, but who said one shouldn’t be shopping when abroad? We’d been thinking for ages how to do it, and were first planning to travel to Naples, but then realised it would take us two hours to get there and two more to get back, especially that the opening time of the shops wasn’t very clear. Due to summertime many places here are closed from 1pm till 4pm, working a little in the morning and till midnight in the evening. And besides, August is the month of holidays, culminating on August 15 , the holiday of Ferragosto, which is an ancient pagan festival of the sun and harvest , adapted in Christianity as a day dedicated to the Madonna. Therefore, the working hours of shops (if at all? ) were under big question.

As a result we compromised . We had already mentioned that in general shopping in Sant’Angelo is virtually inexistent, so we were taken to Ischia Porto, the “capital” of the island. We were told that under the order of Mussolini each Italian city should have its own Via Roma, that is the street of Rome – usually it is the main street with all the shops concentrated on it. Ischia Porto is no exception . We arrived there at 6pm, and the street was crowded . However, we saw very little brand shops as such – most of them, just like in Sant’Angelo, contained a hodgepodge of several items by various brands. Still, after walking along the street till 10pm, each of us ended up with some new clothes .

The taxi driver, which was supposed to take us back to our hotel, told us that the price was not negotiable, but would rather be calculated based on the meter. We were pleased with the idea of not having to pay 40 euros this time. Well, indeed, we didn’t have to – the meter counted 60! We tried to argue, but the driver’s reply was that this was the night fare. Why 11pm had to be considered as night already – is an altogether different question, but arguing any further was simply pointless.

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Capri

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We got our Capri trip almost with a fight. Poor Larissa was really struggling to arrange it for us, but all her efforts met a “brick wall” of the complete apathy of her Italian colleagues. Her requests were passed from one to another, delayed by half an hour, then by another half an hour, and it looked like the trip was about to burst like a soap bubble, when finally, totally desperate, she explained to us how to get there pretty much on our own: take a taxi, then board a boat and then find a tour at the port. She didn’t possess any maps of Capri or guide books, so just had to draw some directions using pen and paper.

Ischia

Ischia

Forio

The boat took about an hour to get to Capri. Fortunately, the day was more or less cloudy, and there was a delightful breeze at the top deck of the boat. We boarded it in Forio and sailed around the whole Ischia, stopping to pick up passengers at all the Ischian ports: Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola and Ischia Porto.

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Larissa had promised us that there would be Russian-speaking tour guides chasing tourists right at the port, but we didn’t want to entrust ourselves to chance and signed up for the Italian/German/English language tour offered directly on board.

Having got rid of this concern, we immersed ourselves in observing other passengers, and were not generally too impressed by their looks. There were quite a lot of sweet couples, gently kissing and hugging, however some of them seemed just plain unattractive. The men looked like a mixture of Julius Caesar with Danny DeVito or Savely Kramarov and the women looked sloppy, scruffy, ready to become coarse in a few years – I’m not trying to be mean here, but you just so imagine them in hair rollers and robe, yelling at their screaming kids!

For reference – the area of the Capri island is four times smaller than that of Ischia, making a total of ten square kilometres. The island is essentially a limestone mountain (as opposed to the volcanic Ischia), so it doesn’t have beaches per se. There are only two towns here, the lower one being Capri, and the higher one is called Anacapri. The water washes away the limestone, which results in the formation of grottos. We took a bus to visit the most famous one of them – the Blue Grotto – once we got off the boat.

The Blue Grotto

We turned out to be very lucky: the Blue Grotto can be entered only forty days a year (at least, so we were told!), at low water, and we just made it before it closed for today. This is how this all worked: the bus drove us right up to the stairs running down to the water, where there was a myriad of row boats with rowers. We had to wait in a queue; then manage to climb into the row boat, which was not that easy at all; then sail on it to the floating box office and pay there; and then lie down on the boat floor, as the entrance to the cave was very low. We entered into absolute darkness, lit only with occasional camera flashes, and accompanied by many-voiced rendition of “O Sole Mio”. We understood why the cave was called blue only once we turned back: illuminated with the light coming through the inlet, the water and ceiling coving got an amazing blue colour.

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

After seeing the grotto, we were taken to the central square of Anacapri. Here our opinion differed with that of Larissa, who had been convincing us that there was nothing to see in Anacapri, and praising Capri – we actually liked Anacapri better, with its magnificent view from the observation deck and a lot of very nice shops. It seems that the symbol of the island is lemon: there are loads of lemon-related souvenirs; there is a lovely refreshing drink made of lemon juice with crushed ice  sold everywhere, and the crown of all is the famous limoncello liqueur. Unfortunately, we only had time to catch a glimpse of all this beauty, as most of the free time we were given was taken by lunch, which our guide Cecilia was so ardently advocating to have right there, that we thought she was receiving commission from the restaurant for referring clients.

View from Anacapri

Anacapri

Later we were taken down to Capri. Here we saw (from the distance) the house of the “stormy petrel of revolution” Gorky, and Cecilia told us that in 1907 he had been visited by Lenin here – there is even a monument to the latter in Capri (which, by the way, no one thought of destroying!). We were told that here is where he was planning the revolution.

Capri

Capri

Capri - Gorky

Monument to Lenin

How did we find Capri? Very cramped, too posh, bristling with villas and gorgeous boutiques with crazy prices. On the narrow roads of what is assumed to be the pedestrian zone there are electrocars constantly scurrying around – we have them in Sant’Angelo too, but there they are not flowing continuously and are therefore not so annoying.

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri - Shoemaker

By the way, all of this splendour functions only from April to October – in winter Capri becomes dormant, and any connection with Ischia stops. Therefore, as Cecilia said, most Ischians have never been to Capri – in summer they are employed in the tourism sector, and in the winter it’s difficult to get there (via Naples), and there is hardly anything to do as well.

If Anacapri was cool and pleasant, in Capri, despite the occasional drizzle, and perhaps because of it, it was very hot and humid. In this swelter we visited the Augusto Gardens and took numerous pictures of the famous Faraglioni rocks.  This stuffiness made the above mentioned lemon drink (la granita) the main highlight of the garden visit. Oh, Larissa, Larissa, we thought, this is where we should have been sitting on a terrace of some restaurant, staring at sauntering tourists and scurrying electrocars, instead of doing so in Anacapri, which instead was perfect for walking.

The drizzle finally ended with a magnificent rainbow that we saw on our way back.

Ischia Porto

Ischia (Casamicciola)

Ischia (Lacco Ameno)

Ischia

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Ischia

Ischian sky

Sant'Angelo - way back

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – day 3

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We still had a half more day in Rome. Our company had to split as part of it vigorously decided to go shopping. The other part, including me as well, didn’t mind shopping either, but somehow felt the urgent need to verify our own honesty by putting our hands into the Mouth of Truth. Here we were particularly lucky: a whole cavalcade of Japanese tourists arrived in several buses exactly AFTER us and formed a hopelessly long queue, while we reached the Bocca della Verità pretty quickly. It was only allowed to take one picture per person. Having confirmed that our hands remained intact, we left this place without visiting the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin – we weren’t really up for it. We tried to find a taxi to catch up with our shopping companions, but there was none anywhere in sight, so we willy-nilly had to go back to the tour bus stop and spend ages (at least, 25 minutes or so!) waiting for the bus under the scorching sun.

The Mouth of Truth

Between this stop and the one leading to Via Corso with lots of shops, there was a trap awaiting us: the Vatican with its non-visited Sistine Chapel. We looked at each other: “Shall we get off here?” – “Yeah, let’s get off. As for the shopping, the hell with it!”

At the Vatican we were delighted by the virtual absence of a queue. Little did we know then, and only later we could appreciate the full extent of our mistake – this time people were entering the Basilica the proper way: through the Museum and the Sistine Chapel, which is completely the opposite side.

And then we met either a fairy godmother or a snake temptress who was persistently inviting us to join a private tour to the Museum, which would allow us to skip the queue, as there was no way to get into the Chapel other than via the Museum. But the tour was to take at least two hours of pure time (i.e. without all the preparation) and by the time it ended we were already supposed to be on our way to the airport. So we basically decided to waste our money: pay the full price, and then skip not only the queue, but also the Museum itself with this 1000+ chambers.

Our Italian-American guide apparently took after his Italian father in being extremely talkative – he eagerly explained us every single step we would have to make, starting from the purchase of the tickets. For us, however, his every word felt like a sharp knife, as it was stealing our precious time. Somewhere in the middle of his speech he was joined by a compassionate Italian lady, who tediously explained us that there was absolutely no way their company could charge us half price for the tour, even though we were going to skip the Museum. Although we hadn’t even asked for anything like this, we had to nod understandingly.

Eventually, we have our tickets in hand, our guide bids us farewell and starts his tour for the others – and off we rush through the museum chambers, full of sculptures, tapestries, maps, mosaics, etc. We only manage to catch a glimpse of this and that on the run, lingering for literally a second in front of anything particularly eye-catching. Very beautiful indeed, but terribly stuffy and packed with people – by and large we would hardly be able to survive a two-hour tour anyway!

The Vatican Museum

 

The Vatican Museum

And the Chapel is still quite far, we accelerate and accelerate…  Finally, swathed in shawls once again (it’s also a holy place!) we enter the Chapel. Michelangelo’s paintings on the walls and ceiling are utterly amazing, it is a pity, though, that we can’t appreciate all the details – the unpleasant surprise is that it is so crowded that there isn’t even room to sneeze, therefore no chance to walk around and look. By the way, taking photos in the Chapel is not allowed, but I managed to sneakily take one or two – it is quite blurry, but at least you get the idea.

Sistine Chapel

Still, we anyway felt great satisfaction by the Chapel itself and the fact that we had chosen contemplation thereof over meaningless shopping.

We were lucky to find a taxi right next to St. Peter’s square, and as a result we reached our hotel even before our companions.

Then we headed to the airport where our flight was delayed by about an hour. The transfer in Naples worked perfectly: a minivan took us to the port, where the driver got us tickets for the boat, and on our arrival to Ischia we were picked up by another minivan with a frail elderly driver, who nevertheless famously placed our luggage on the car rooftop.

We had been perceiving Ischia as some kind of a small town – it turned out to be a large island. The minivan drove us for about an hour in the dark until it dropped us at the start of the pedestrian zone of Sant’Angelo, where it took us ten more minutes to drag our suitcases to the hotel.

 

Croatia – Day 4

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27 August 2012 – Monday

Today the sea showed us that it is not always quiet, so probably it would have been difficult to swim at our beach, where one has to use the ladder to get into the sea. Even last night, when the wind was just beginning to rise, we found it quite hard to swim. Luckily, in the morning we spotted another beach, a public one, where the sea was shallow and where we could enter gradually, as we are used to. It was just 10-15 minutes away along the coast.

The beach, however, was so stony that we immediately had to buy rubber swimming shoes. The bottom was very uneven – not only were there pebbles, but also quite sharp rocks as well. Sun beds and umbrellas had to be paid for, of course. The beach was also offering sea bike rides, which I wasn’t up for, while the rest of our group were. So I stayed to watch them from the shore.

In the afternoon we visited a local shopping center on the Lapad peninsula. Basically it was very close to the beach we attended in the morning, but we did not know it then. We went there by bus. The mall was of a really modest size, but we still managed to purchase some small things there. I have to say that all everyday products here are cheap enough, however, clothes and cosmetics are pretty expensive. Initially we were planning to have dinner right there. But then we got cold, and besides there weren’t really any restaurants around – only cafes serving drinks. So we went back to the hotel, and not by bus, which we spent ages waiting for, in vain, but by taxi. Interestingly, the price for five of us turned out exactly the same – so there wasn’t any point in waiting for the bus anyway.

Croatia – Day 3

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26 August 2012 – Sunday

Today we went to the city centre again – not just randomly, like the day before, but on an Old City walking tour. Yesterday, while watching tourists walking on the city walls under the burning sun, I personally felt their pain, already sadly imagining myself in their ranks. The reality was far more enjoyable: we met our guide Ivana – a very nice girl with a bandaged leg – and within a group of 8 people we walked around the Old City in a “derated mode”, trying to avoid direct sunlight and even sitting down every now and then. The tour lasted two hours, during which we learned a lot of interesting things about Dubrovnik.

So, Dubrovnik once used to be an independent republic, known as Ragusa in Latin. The republic was democratic (albeit conditionally, as the right to vote belonged only to male noblemen). The city had a rector, who was elected for a 30-day period during which he had no right to leave the palace, where he lived alone, without family. Apparently, this was done to ensure that he did not have any outside influences and cared only about the government’s interest.

The Republic had very strict rules and laws, concerning even the construction of buildings. Thus, the buildings had to look pretty much the same – no one was allowed to show off their wealth, at least outwardly. The windows of neighbouring houses were not to be facing each other, as everyone had the right for privacy. Nobody could build their house even a foot or two ahead of others; the punishment for violation of the law was indeed very strict: the house would be demolished, and its owner would face a penalty charge AND go to jail.

Foreigners were allowed to stay in the city only during the day – at night they were expelled, and the city gates were locked. The only exception was made for the Jewish quarter, due to the extreme utility of its inhabitants to the city. But this quarter too was locked at night on both sides, so formally it was kind of outside of the city. When Dubrovnikers were blamed for the fact that they were cherishing the infidels, the very diplomatic city authorities replied that the Republic often had to deal with other infidels – the Ottoman Empire – so it was better to have these infidels communicate between each other. By the way, this quarter has the second oldest synagogue in Europe, the first one being in Prague.

In general, it must be said that the mercantile Dubrovnik had always managed to juggle between its main enemies: the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire. Its motto was “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro” (meaning something like “Liberty can’t be sold for all the gold in the world”), yet the authorities spared no expense for buying this liberty – that is, they paid off their enemies.

On one of the side streets we saw the Church of St. Roch – the patron saint of plague patients. There is an interesting story associated with it: once children used to play some football-like game just outside of the church and kept pounding the ball against its walls. At some point the priest had enough of it, so he scribbled a curse on the wall saying “May peace be with you. Remember of death, those playing the ball”. The children scribbled a response – something like “We want to play – and so we will!”

On one of the staircases Ivana asked us if we could figure out why the balustrade was solid up to a certain height. Our version was that it was done in care of children, so that they didn’t fall out. The reality was nothing like that. Noble ladies, climbing the stairs on their way to the nearby Dominican church, of course, had to lift their skirts, revealing their ankles. The architecture of the staircase did not allow loitering young men to stare at them from below.

The old town is associated with many contrarieties, for example, in 1806 Napoleon deceived the authorities of Dubrovnik, asking to give him permission to just pass through the city to hit Montenegrins – the Russian allies. The authorities trustfully opened the gates for the French emperor and… the city was seized. Napoleon even built a fort atop of Mount Srđ. However, these fortifications built by an invader, saved Dubrovnik during the war for independence in 1991. By the way, during this war, Dubrovnik was besieged for real: from the sea it was blocked by the Montenegrin Navy, and from the land it was bombed by Serbs, who also cut off all communications. People, believing that the Old City was a safe place (as bombing historical objects is prohibited by international military law) rushed under the protection of its walls. However, as Ivana told us with indignation, it was bombed in the first place.

But finally there was peace, and as previously, Dubrovnik is respected among Croatian cities. If someone says, “I’m from The City”, this means that they are from Dubrovnik. The rest find this pretty annoying, but nevertheless they have also become used to calling Dubrovnik “The City”.

At the end of the tour Ivana told us a touching story about the local “Romeo and Juliet” – Silvana from the Roman settlement and Dubravko from the Slavic one. As it always happens with lovers from warring clans, they perished. Interestingly, the names of both, each in their own language, are related to the word “forest”, and the name of Dubrovnik itself is derived from the word “dub”, meaning  “oak”.

Left on our own, we walked along the main shopping street, but didn’t find anything decent in terms of good value for money. Tourist shops, no more than that. We wanted to have lunch in the Old City, but somehow ended up in the same terrace restaurant on the Pile Square, as yesterday.

After lunch we went back to the hotel, and as intended, swam in the sea, right until a tangible wind got up, bringing some rubbish to our pristine shores. From the evening impressions it’s worth mentioning an awfully brazen cat in the restaurant: it was not actually begging for food, but rather demanding it discontentedly, wagging its tail menacingly and sharpening its claws on our chairs no less threateningly. Fortunately, one of us didn’t like his Caesar salad, so virtually all of the chicken went to the impertinent animal.

The evening ended with a pleasant walk along the sea, so on the whole the day hasn’t been lived in vain.

Croatia – Day 2

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25 August 2012 – Saturday

The day consisted of two parts: a very pleasant swim in the sea and a rather worthless trip to the city. Actually, we only needed to change money, buy some stuff, and eat out for a change.

In the morning we rushed right to the beach immediately after breakfast. The sea here was unusual for us, in the sense that it wasn’t a strip of sandy beach, where you could walk into the sea from anywhere and paddle in shallow water until you reached the depth that was suitable for swimming. Here the shore was rocky, there were only a couple of places with pool ladders, where one could get into the sea, and right at once it was so deep that we couldn’t even touch the sea floor. But it’s almost impossible to sink (hopefully!), because the water is very salty, or at least, it seemed so to us in comparison with the moderately salty Caspian. Anyway, swimming in the sea is an enormous pleasure!

For those who can’t or don’t want to swim in the sea, there were swimming pools – two with salt water, and one with chlorinated fresh water. The beach area was purely civilised, with sunbeds and towels provided to hotel guests.

We indulged in this ‘dolce far niente’ twice today – in the morning and evening. In between, as already mentioned above, we went to the centre of Dubrovnik.

Impressions: hot, huge traffic jams on narrow streets, a hell lot of people (more than in Beijing, it seemed!), the complete absence of any shops (for decency’s sake, let’s say that we might have been brought to a wrong place), so that we were only able to buy souvenir refrigerator magnets. If there was a bright moment in this whole journey, it was eating outside at a terrace restaurant by the sea. So it turned out that we drove for such a long time, stuck in the traffic, only to have lunch. Well, never mind.

Also, as always when we arrive somewhere, we tried to book some guided tours. So first of all, tomorrow, we are visiting the Old City, on Tuesday we are doing the three islands tour, on Thursday we are going to Montenegro and on Friday – to the island of Korčula. We had to worry a bit about the trip to Montenegro: the agent described the tour along the Bay of Kotor as something incredibly magnificent. But as we became totally excited, we got turned down: she was told on the phone that Azerbaijani citizens needed a visa. We tried to argue that we had heard on TV about the temporary cancellation of visa regime for this summer, but we were told – no, we can’t sign you up for the tour, go on your own if you want. We were terribly disappointed, but decided nevertheless to clarify this on the Internet. We could find a couple of news sites, confirming our original idea, although on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro it was really stated that a visa was required. We made a second attempt to talk to the agent in the afternoon. We barely started to explain the situation, when she happily interrupted us: it turned out that their staff had already checked everything and confirmed that we could go! So, we are going, hopefully the border guards are also informed about the visa regime relief for summer!

Paris, je t’aime – Days 8 & 9

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

28 March, 2010

This was my most idle day in Paris. I was going to meet a friend for lunch, and didn’t know how to kill the time before that. I couldn’t really go anywhere as my ankle still hurt. When I saw 12:00 on my mobile, I started getting ready, but then, giving my watch a glance, realised that I somehow managed to change the clock not one hour, but two hours ahead, so it turned out I had an extra hour to kill!

When I arrived to the place we agreed on (near the metro Bastille; while getting there, I saw the Canal Saint-Martin from the train window, where Amélie Poulain was throwing pebbles, not sure where exactly – the channel is pretty long), I had to wait for my friend for an hour! It turned out that she was coming by car, and not by metro, in order to save time, and it turned out even worse – some roads were closed.

But at least, on her way she called the Latin American restaurant “Barrio Latino” we were intending to go to, and made a reservation (we found out that you had to make one to be allowed in). So there we went, and we had a very good time. The restaurant was absolutely packed, because on Sundays, those who took a brunch buffet were offered free salsa lessons. We were sitting on the second floor, watching people dance downstairs.

As for the rest of the day, I had to spend it in my hotel room – all my friends were busy this evening, and I still wasn’t able to walk by myself.

29 March, 2010

My last day in Paris – hopefully, the last one this time. In the morning I rushed to buy some makeup, and also chocolates for my colleagues in the office (my ankle was doing much better). The weather was very good, and all the beggars had gladly poured into the streets. Speaking of beggars, I didn’t mention earlier that there were a lot of them here! Some of them just sat quietly and peacefully in the streets with signs saying there were hungry, and always with pets (mostly dogs, although I once saw a cat too). I don’t quite get the point of this, probably they have those pets for company, or maybe the sight of a poor hungry animal is intended to soften the Parisians’ hearts more than that of a poor hungry person. And some others keep constantly pestering you in the street, coming up with different tricks – just like that scam with the ring that we had had the pleasure to witness and take part in.

So, after shopping, I decided to visit Versailles, especially that the weather, as I said before, was good. But, as a Ukrainian proverb says (I couldn’t find its English equivalent anywhere), if a poor man is going to get married, the night will be short. In the beginning everything was going fine. I took the metro to Saint-Michel, then changed to RER to Versailles – and there I went, admiring the beautiful scenery along the way – the suburbs of Paris are much greener and more picturesque than the city itself, especially with all the flowering trees!

Once in Versailles, I decided to have lunch first. The waiter in a local restaurant was just bursting with compliments – ah, “princesse”, etc.

After lunch, I walked to the palace, and once in its territory, paid attention to the suspiciously small number of visitors for such a famous landmark. My worst suspicions were confirmed when I went to the ticket office: “Le château est fermé le lundi” (“The castle is closed on Mondays”) – read the sign categorically. Who would have thought that it might be closed on a day like Monday! I should have checked though…

But at least, the park and gardens were open, of course. I wasn’t really up to walking around on foot, but luckily I noticed a little train running through the territory. The ride on the train was very enjoyable – the sun was shining, there were beautiful green lawns and sheep everywhere.

Having made a full circle, I went back to the station, and returned to Paris. But before going to the hotel, I went to Montmartre to see and photograph the Moulin Rouge! And in the evening I met some of my French friends.

Overall, I liked Paris a lot. It’s true that I didn’t have to deal with any local crime or the local bureaucracy. But still, it’s a wonderful city, and I hope to be back some day!

Paris, je t’aime – Day 6

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26 March, 2010

Today our ranks have thinned – Mom took a flight back to Baku. The day didn’t turn out particularly exciting – perhaps to some extent because of the weather: it’s quite cold today (well, not like -20C, of course, but still very little enjoyable), windy, raining occasionally (if not hailing!), even though the sun kept peeping out every now and then.

First thing in the morning, to my displeasure, we went shopping. Well, not quite shopping, but rather exploring the Galeries Lafayette , shocked with the prices. Okay , these were designer brands – Gucci, D & G, Prada, Céline, Versace, etc. But for goodness’ sake, they weren’t worth this much money! The red dress for more than two thousand euros, which I mentioned yesterday – yes, that one was really gorgeous. Here though, you can come across dresses for 13,000 euros, which, honestly, I wouldn’t even take for free (well, that’s a lie probably; I would take them for free!).

We did manage to buy quite decent stuff in nearby shops at the end, even though we got stuck for a good 40 minutes in a  in a plus size store, where my Mom spent ages choosing clothes, trying them on, and on, and on. It wasn’t actually her fault; it’s just that the sales assistants here differ radically from their London colleagues. In London they don’t bother you unless you specifically address them, and even in that case, generally don’t tend to go beyond the scope of your request. Here though, as soon as they see you looking for something particular, they’ll start offering you more and more new models until you are eventually forced to buy something.

After all this hassle I was already sick of shops, so we went to have lunch at a Japanese restaurant. Then we went back to the hotel to take a short nap, and headed to the Boulevard Montparnasse, but weren’t particularly impressed. I’m not sure whether it was because of the grey weather (that’s when it started hailing, by the way), or the Boulevard is really not extremely remarkable. I think it was more due to the weather – in sunny weather all the street cafes would be working, and the atmosphere would be much happier and nicer. But never mind, the weather had already been very nice to us before, giving the opportunity to see the most interesting places.

So pretty soon we went back to the hotel. Mom left for the airport, and I went out with my Azeri friend, her flatmate and classmates. We went to have dinner at an Azeri restaurant. Actually, the restaurant itself is called «Caucase», but the owners and chefs were Azeri. And the food was absolutely delicious!

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