Piazza delle Erbe, Genova

PasseXout internet cafe is one of the places I haunt while staying in Genova, is the internet cafe down in Piazza delle Erbe.  It opens at 10am Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays ... understandably closed, as they stay open until midnight or later.

The staff are friendly, they speak English and will sign you into their system as long as you can provide them with ID.  When I returned after almost 9 months away, I still had .80 cents in time sitting there in my account.

They don’t offer a wifi service but you can print A4 and A3 papers there.
Internet time costs 3 euro per hour.  Free wifi is restricted to a few cafes, 2 more since I was here last year but forget about Sundays, I haven’t located a Sunday internet source yet, and I have never seen more than 2 secured wifi signals floating loose here in the old part of the city.

No, my hands aren’t shaking ...

Anyway, PasseXout is located at Piazza delle Erbe 12R, and if you want to know more, you can mail them at ellepiemmesas@libero.it.

Bottega degli Aromi is just next door at 16R Piazza delle Erbe and I was so very glad I wandered in this time, as the mosquitoes decided to feast on me.  Initially, I did the usual and saw the pharmacist who gave me cream with hydrocortisone in it.  I resisted smearing it all over my bites not liking the idea of the cortisone.

Bottega deglia Aromi was an impulse followed.  I popped in to see if they had anything homeopathic and they did.  Crema cinque Fiori is the cream version of Rescue Remedy and my bites were much happier after it was applied.  In English the cream is called Five Flower Cream and comes from Healing Herbs.

You will also find Mario Rivaro and his exquisite gelato on Vico delle Erbe, 15/17R.  My favourite flavour is the cherry gelato, the piccolo version in a cone is more than enough to satisfy on a hot day.  However, that said, every choice offers new delights ... the lemon meringue gelato is stunning, as are the chocolate varities.  Tasting them all is too much to ask.

Piazza delle Erbe is one of many excellent places if you are looking for lunch or an aperitivo in the evenings.  A popular local haunt, you can order from various bars.  It reminds me a little of Campo dei Fiori in Rome but unlike Rome, locals outnumber the tourists

Ciao from Genova.

How to Arrive in Genova ...

I think I arrive once there are flowers on the kitchen table ...

Here in Genova there is always someplace to buy flowers and Paola’s round dining table invites flowers, even if I still haven’t quite organised a vase. Today one of my water bottles has been sawn-off to play hostess to flowers bought at a market on Piazza Scio where we also discovered a large market and the sweetest smallest tomatoes.

These last few days have been days of long conversations, where two old friends caught up on 5 years of absence and massive life changes.  We reminisced, laughed over pizzas and red wine, caught boats and journeyed through that favourite space we most enjoy – the place where the land meets the sea.

Genova was good to us, providing us with the very best foccacia at the beginning of each day or, on alternate days, unbelievably good breakfast cappuccino.  We had days of wandering, cherry gelato, inexpensive yet good red wines, slow mornings and late nights.

Pippa came to me 2 weeks out of New Zealand, via Haiwaii and Vienna, and our 5 days passed quicky.  Yesterday we caught a train to Milan to say goodbye at an airport bus stop in a city on fire with heat and humidity.  We talked through the 2 hour train trip to Milan, and then, after the goodbye, I possibly became one of the few people to have travelled with a slightly nervous, world-wandering friend, from Genova through to Milan only to leave her boarding her airport bus while I returned on another train within the hour and head straight back to Genova.

That would be the train where the air-conditioning in my carriage was broken.  Being a creature who prefers heat not too much above 20 celsius yesterday was a struggle and I struck out in search of a cool place only to find myself standing on tiptoes in a corridor, trying to catch something of the slightly cooler breeze as it came in through a high window. 

A very short elderly woman spotted the breeze in my hair, and came to stand in front of me, continuing to fan herself furiously as the breeze was never going to reach her.  We all laughed, her son too, and I resisted the temptation to offer to hoist her up to the high window.

imageEventually a harried, sweating conductor came to our rescue and led us through to carriage 5 ... or I think that was what he was saying.  I flopped into an air-conditioned 6 seat carriage with two men who left at the next stop.  I could only smile over my own paranoia that they were moving away from this smelly foreign woman.

Those last tunnels before Genova held us captive longer than necessary, as our train queued to weave its way into the main station ... the station I didn’t really know how to get ‘home’ from.

I read bus stop lists and decided on Bus 33, it would reach Piazza De Ferrari eventually and I was too tired to do more than smile as Bus 33 climbed up into the hills behind Genova and took me around my destination, the one marked out clearly by the giant ERG sign down there near the old centre ... round and then down.

I saw the city from the heights and its a beautiful city ...

In these days of wandering without intending to talk, I have discovered some truly special people anyway ... the lovely man with the vegetarian cafe, who has since asked if one of my photographs of him might be used in an article for the Corriere della Sera; the man and his wife with the farinata shop close by and the pizza people… 

imageThe woman who sells me my breakfast foccacia discovered I come from Nuova Zelanda today ... we reached a point of understanding and agreement via gestures and our few words in common, regarding the fact that we both loved our countries of origin but admired each other’s too.

The cafe where my favourite cappuccino is made is called Cafe Boomerang, in honour of the owner’s visit to Australia, and the gelato guy had an ‘I love you!‘moment when he realised I wanted the details of his shop for this website.

The internet cafe people are just as I left them last year but the vegetarian cafe has free wifi too, so I’ll wander between them, so as not to seem too internet needy perhaps ...

There is so much here in this tiny corner of the city, so much to love.  I’m holidaying with Gert for a few days now, trying not to talk to or photograph interesting strangers but it’s difficult.

Even the man operating the boat trips to Camogli, San Fruttuoso and Portofino is going to cycle New Zealand next year.

It’s good to be out ...

Ciao for now.

An Abundance ...

Most days we have spent 10 hours out taking photographs, returning to the apartment to organise and process them but I have never managed to keep up ... having taken 586 photographs on Saturday alone.  My photo folders are overflowing and after a hectic 48 hours of good people, a beautiful hotel, a niece from New Zealand, 2 kiwis who lives here, a little too much red wine on a warm Istanbul night and amazing photographic opportunities, here I am, processing and trying to put things back in order, having not even had time to view the images taken at 6.30am Saturday out on the Bosphorous.

Istanbul is one of those cities where I can’t stop using my camera, it’s a passion, a compulsion and a pleasure but my body is protesting. 
I fly tomorrow.


I know people who know people ...

And as a result, this Istanbul journey can only be described as truly remarkable. 

Last night was a mix of marvellous coincidence and good friends.  I introduced friends and hosts, Lisen and Yakup,  to Hayden, the New Zealander of Zen Turkey.com, who has lived here forever.  Over dinner and drinks, information was exchanged that will benefit both and I was happy. 

Maybe it’s a kiwi thing but we love making connections, meeting new people, introducing people who can surely help each other while knowing that they will like each other too. Dinner over, we were sitting outside in old-town Sultanamet when Hayden’s phone rang and another voice from my Istanbul past arrived amongst us.


I had twice travelled to Eceabat, on the Gallipoli Peninsula and taken the WWI tour with TJ.  Like the lovely guys on Flanders Fields, there is nothing that TJ doesn’t know about the Commonwealth soldiers left behind in the war.

He runs tours there and has some nice places to stay. You can find TJ’s website here.


TJ was calling Hayden to say that he had just flown in from Australia and how about meeting for drinks.  Gert and I got to tag along too.  It was an excellent way to end a lovely day. 

Past Lives and Memories

I struggled with how to title this post but I knew it had something to do with the nostalgia inspired by scent and a yearning for familiar things…

I woke early here in this Istanbul world and decided to get up. I’ve been alternatively working on photographs, with an occasional detour out into a new book I’m devouring but don’t have much time to read - The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, is worth checking out if you’re looking for an interesting fiction about suicide bombers.

It’s too early for anyone else and there is the promise of hot fresh borek if I’m patient, so I quietly found a banana to eat while my Turkish tea stewed in the top pot.

The banana was ripe and breaking it open delivered me back, just for a moment, to my childhood of bananas bruised by their trip to the river’s edge in our picnic box.

Savouring that scent here in Istanbul, so very far from the world I grew up in made me stop to think about the way that scent has been taking me ‘home’ lately ... the way that smell has become something akin to an album of memories I carry inside of me.

You see, there is a particular soap I use occasionally, it’s one that transports me directly back to a childhood of happy visits to Nana and Grandad’s Invercargill house. And a colleague of mine delights me by smoking the same cigarette brand that Nana once smoked, a long time ago. Gidon is less than excited by this fact that he reminds me of Nana ... as he is younger than me.

Shampoos and conditioners pick me up and transport me but they come from so many periods of this strange life of mine ... there were those childhood toiletries, then there is that one I used in America, another was discovered in Istanbul and they too offer a surprisingly powerful journey into memory.

It’s like that these days but the house is waking now - remembering took longer than I expected and my tea-glass needs refilled. Soon there will be piping hot borek in my tummy and here I am, creating a whole new set of memories in this different someplace else.


Gozleme and Çay

Istanbul is being so good to us. 

Today Lisen and I interviewed a Roma fashion designer while we tried to choose, from a stunning array of dancing costumes, a gift for Miss 4. 

We began the day eating delicious gozleme at the organic market, had a tasty kofte lunch at Ayvansaray and, took incredible photographs all day because the people and the sights we saw were simply incredible. 

A stunning stunning day, here in the city of Istanbul. 

Huge thanks to Lisen and Yakup, the best host and hostess a person could wish for.

First Morning back in Istanbul

I’m writing this, 8am on my first morning back in Istanbul.  The air is a little chill after the blue-sky warmth of yesterday but I love it.  It’s fresh, people are walking by and across the road the pharmacist … the eczane, is opening his store. 

Istanbul is breaking open.  There are new leaves on the trees and yesterday, tulips in full-bloom lined the coastal highway we took back into the city. 

Did I mention how good it is to be back here?

Last night, Lisen and Yakup created a Turkish meze kind of meal for us.  A cold meal of many plates, to be accompanied by Raki … it was delicious, as is most Turkish food.

The sweet flavour-filled tomatoes were cut into wedges, drizzled with good oil, basil and salt.  There was a lovely potato salad with parsley and dill.  A cold red lentil and bulgar patty that was so very good.  We had a little Passchendaele cheese, brought in from the flatlands, served together with Turkish salami and a stringy Turkish cheese that is a huge favourite of mine.  Olives marinated in some lovely concoction of herbs and oil, hummus, a yoghurt and herb dip, bread – with another saucer of herb-enhanced oil for dipping.

This morning, as I write this, Lisen is cooking my most favourite of Turkish foods – borek - layers of thin pastry cooked with cheese and herbs.  My cup runneth over and we haven’t been here 24 hours yet.

And having written such loving descriptions of the food, you need to know that the food isn’t my big Istanbul passion.  I love the city even more and today I’m heading into the city that fills another part of my soul ...

We’ll be wandering in Taksim, with a visit to Robinson Crusoe – a favourite bookshop, the flower passage, Galata Tower for that 360 degree view over the city with the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea below. Galata Bridge and the fishermen leaning over the edge, the probably through into Sultanahmet with Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque.

Today is a day for full-immesion in this stunningly beautiful crazy-busy city I love.

A Home-coming, of sorts ...

It was good to be back in a country where the call to prayer was a part of my day.  It felt like a homecoming of sorts ... although the excessive quiet of my Belgian life had made me forget just how noisy a big city could be.

I fell into a coma-like sleep that first Cairo night but my travelling companion had no such luck, and no mp3 player.  Apparently the market below us went on until 3 or 4 in the morning, writes this laughing woman.

Life was lived in a surreal style there.
I learned that I will probably travel to Israel and Palestine, with a return to Cairo in January, and it seems that I will be needed for 3 months in Berlin at the end of 2009 ... do you see how it is?

The siren that police use to alert other drivers of their presence seems to be a novelty item at the market below.  Stunningly noisy ... all through the night.  Always pack your mp3 player when staying in a hotel like mine in downtown Cairo.

I made a recording ... and on playback, I hear the call to prayer, quite loudly, as if windows are open but really the mosque was very close. 

Then I hear this tired woman say at the end of the call to prayer recording,  ‘5.10am Cairo’ as she laughs quietly. 
I went back to sleep.

Hearing it still makes me laugh.

One of 'those' Visa Moments.

Flying toward Cairo, imagining all my research thoroughly done, I slept for a while ...

I woke to find two blank forms on the empty seat next to me, to be filled out in preparation for passing through Customs.

I dug out a pen and started working on them.  Suddenly there was this ‘moment’ ... one of those heart-stopping ones.  The questionnaire asked me to write the country I had purchased my visa in.

I hadn’t, instead I had read, on all the best websites, that you purchased a visa on landing.

Oddly enough, it made the flight a little bit longer, wondering what would happen if this New Zealander was caught trying to enter Egypt without a visa.  How stupid would that seem ...

Cairo Airport knocked me off-balance after the frozen 4am departure from down-town Antwerpen, the sanitised high-tech ride through a snowy Zurich airport.  Arrivals was my first taste of the big Middle Eastern city; the muggy heat and the exchange rate for the Egyptian pound only added to the surreal nature of my journey however ...  I joined one of the many queues leading to the banks where you purchased your visa and exchanged euro for pounds, so quietly thankful.

To give you an idea, the exchange rate at the moment is 1 EUR = 7.78750 EGP
My 50 euro became approximately 390 Egyptian pounds, a difference I never really managed to get during my 5 days in the city.

At the end of my first full day in Cairo

At the end of my first full day in Cairo I returned to my room at the Carlton Hotel, not to be mistaken for the Ritz Carlton.  My bed was the place I retreated to at the end of the day.  A place of peace where I could replay the day and its unfolding.

There was the photography, as always ... my client, her Egyptian film-maker, the gallery owner and then Cairo herself on that first day.  The Egyptian Museum stunned me with its collections of mummies ... pharaohs from the 18 to 20th Dynasty found in Thebes. There was a group found in Deir el Bahari cachette, and it consisted of the mummies of: Seqenenre, Ahmose I, Amenhotep I, Tuthmosis I, Tuthmosis II, Tuthmosis III, Seti I, Ramses II, Ramses III.  Another group, found in the tomb of Amenhotep II ... Amenhotep II, Tuthmosis IV, Amenhotep III, Merenptah, Seti II, Siptah, Ramses IV, Ramses V, Ramses VI, (and three women and a child.)

Magical names I thought myth ...

And there was me, strolling through this massive museum near the Nile, passing by artefacts so ancient that I couldn’t begin to grasp the time that had passed between them and now. 

A note: if you need a little respite from Cairo’s carbon monoxide, the museum has filtered air and was a little oasis of calm but for the fact that I was surrounded by the likes of Amenhotep the I and II.  The corselet and a gameboard belonging to Tutankhamon were there ...

The Lonely Planet had recommended our hotel but promised nothing extraordinary, a place to sleep, friendly staff, a rooftop restaurant and cleanish rooms.

We found the staff friendly and helpful and there was a sense of family amongst those who took care of us.  The elevator was old but seemed to work perfectly.

We amused the night manager by asking to see the fire escape.  He led us out back and pointed to the spiral metal stairs disappearing up into the narrow alleyway darkness but failed to mention the padlocked fire escape door we noticed when we were up in the roof restaurant for the view.  I’m sure there’s a contingency plan but we were put off asking anything more because he laughed and gently tease us about the fire escape whenever he saw us after that.

I always struggle with the initial restrictions of other countries ... in this instance, don’t drink the tap water, avoid ice in drinks, and salads washed in tap water.  I ended up settling for a hunk of tender roast sheep with a little rice for lunch, lentil soup and rice for my dinners.

The noise was a constant, a market on the street directly below .. I’m glad I packed my mp3 player.

But that was the day when I began to love my Cairo life.