My Genovese Workspace

It's raining this morning and so I've stayed at the apartment, with plans to meet friends later.  But even when it rains, I find this city beautiful. Reflections appear in puddles on footpaths all over the city.

I have developed a new and terrible habit.  I wake about 8am, open the door to the small balcony, climb back into bed and sleep again ... as late as 11am that first time.  It's bliss.  I'm an early-rising creature and find it easy to wake and begin a day.

Not so here.  I have become a sloth. Quite the delighted sloth.  It won't last. It's only that I'm walking all over the place and talking to so many interesting people.  And I have Donatella and Luciano's cd playing.

But staying in on a Saturday morning in Genova ... you can see why in the photograph below.  The space where I work is an easy place to be.

Thank you, Air B&B.  I can't recommend them highly enough.  My cousin, Julie, introduced me to them and we stayed in them in Verona, Croatia, Budapest, Austria, and Lake Como last summer.  You get to meet interesting locals and live in local homes. 

My bedroom/office space in this beautiful apartment, downtown Genova.

Awake ...1.29 am in Italy

I did the crime ... an Italian espresso at 5pm in Venice.   And although it was in celebration of finding our way out of the maze that is Venice, it seems I must do the time.  It's 1.29am and I'm still awake.  Wide awake!

Today has been all about leaving Trieste, then impulsively stopping for an hour or two of wandering through Venice, and driving on afterwards, another million miles towards Milan then Lake Como.

An impulsive couple of hours in Venice that became 4 hours when we were lost for a while on our way out of that ancient city. 

And Venice ...!!!  I'm not even sure how to write up the experience.  Not yet.  But tonight, once we found our way to Bellano, Italy, there was this dinner consisting of this divine smokey cheese, provided by our lovely Air B&B hostess, and a bottle of Italian red wine we had been carrying since Budapest.

Julie made herself pasta but it felt too late for me to be eating something so serious and anyway, I was still recovering from The Most Delicious pasta dinner I had ever tasted ... the previous evening, back in Trieste.  Something to do with mushrooms, a cream sauce, and pasta at Al Barattolo.

If you find yourself in Trieste, I can only tell you that you must eat at Al Barattolo because the food is divine. The house red wine is also delicious but that's a whole other story.

That said, tonight's pasta did inspire Julie to write up a blogpost about our roadtrip so far.  But our journey is almost done and tomorrow we're off to the airport.  I'm heading back to Antwerp while she's continuing on her long journey home, with Athens as her next destination.  

I will miss that cousin of mine after almost 2 months of living and traveling together.  We do have the most excellent adventures though.  Always.  Last time we wandered all over England, wondering about speed limits and road rules as we went, occasionally phoning home to seek wise counsel on these serious matters.

We drank wine with mercenaries on that journey.  I actually went through a stage where I met 3 different groups of them socially ... by chance and yes, I found it bizarre.  We also managed to accidentally walked out of a cafe without paying, realised, then found a branch of the same chain in another town over there, confessed, felt the love ... well actually, their surprise that we were so honest.  I think they might have been stunned but anyway, they'd written it off, much to our relief.  And so much more.  It's never sedate when we get together.

Anyway ... tonight finds us in a lovely Air B&B in Bellano in Italy.  It seems to be located on one of the arms of Lake Como, not Como itself though.  Everything we've viewed online tells us it's lovely however ...spending time lost in Venice complicated our arrival here and made us some hours late, in fact, after darkness had fallen.

The light was fading fast when we began driving the 50 minutes alongside Lake Como to Bellano.  Darkness AND there were masses of tunnels, some as much as 5kms long.  And while The Homer Tunnel experience in New Zealand last year, seems to have cured me of my previously intense dislike of tunnels, I wasn't the happiest creature when I realised we had driven an extra 16kms beyond our destination exit road, due to our troublesome GPS losing its satellite connection while in those very same very long tunnels.

But arriving here, meeting Laura - our lovely B&B hostess, settling in, drinking the last bottle of red wine Julie and I will share in a while ... somehow everything took on a rosy restropective glow and voila, we were happy again.

We are fortunate, it doesn't take much to right our sometimes wonky worlds.  Well ... I could have done without the whole 'sleepless in Bellano' thing but you wouldn't have this post and nor would you have this small glimpse of a scene I spotted in Venice.

Budapest ...!

I loved Budapest!

Julie had found us an Air B&B apartment located directly behind the opera house and just off Andrássy Avenue.   There's a photograph of the exquisite interior courtyard at the end of this post.  We were two floors up, 6 flights of stairs but honestly ... worth it.

Things I loved about Budapest: the ruin pubs, most especially Szimpla.  Jennifer took us to both Szimpla and Instant ruin pubs and honestly, loved them.

Coffee.  Again we were wandering in a city with excellent coffee.  Favourite cafe was The Párizsi Nagyáruház.  As with so many of the delightful finds made in Budapest, Jennifer was responsible as we went there after I did a small portrait session with her.  Then I took Julie back while we discussed whether she should replace her dead Apple laptop with an iPad.  She did.  (A couple of days later and I can report that she is supremely happy with her iPad.)

Komédiás Kávéház was a delightful find - again, introduced to us by Jennifer.  Fodor's pretty much have it covered when they write, Also called Café le Comédien, this ravishingly elegant little café in the heart of the main theater district, next door to the Thália Theater and near the Opera House, has live piano music daily from 7 PM and has an impressive cherry-wood-like staircase leading up to its small second-floor room.

On the second night, Jennifer found yet another treasure and there I ate a Hungarian dish called Sztrapacska, a dish that will go on my top 5 dinners in the world so far.   She has superb taste in wines too and so it was that we had another delightful Hungarian red wine with our food.  It may be that she will cross-post a Hungarian wine post for me here.  We really enjoyed all that we tasted.

And the food has all been very affordable. 

Budapest impressed me for so many reasons. Andrássy Avenue became familar very quickly, the Opera House too.  We ended up using a hop on/hop off bus, attempting to cover as much of the city as possible during our two nights there.  We crossed the Danube on the bus and it took us up into the hills of Pest ... or was it Buda?  Buda I think.

Up there we met Iain, a fellow kiwi who wandered over and asked us if we were kiwis.  It was lovely to meet someone from home.  The accent still gives me the most delightful jolt when I hear it unexpectedly.  We chatted a while, up there on the hill and then later, said hi when we met up with him and his Spanish traveling companions in the ruin pub.

And once all this traveling is done, I hope to hunt down books on the history of the city, and the characters who helped create it, most particularly Matthias Corvinus, 1443-1490.  He seems like he might have been a fascinating man.  As a Renaissance ruler, he established education institutions, patronized art and science, and introduced a new legal system in the Kingdom of Hungary. In the era of his kingship, Matthias strongly endeavored to follow the model and ideas of the philosopher-king as described in Plato’s Republic.

There were sad stories too but they're for another post perhaps.

I would like to return and explore some more of this country called Hungary. I was intrigued, fascinated and impressed by the people, the cuisine, the city of Budapest.

Road-Tripping ...Things I'm Learning

The best random car radio I've heard anywhere in the world so far was between Rijeka, Croatia and Budapest, Hungary.  I guess it's music I know so perhaps there was some nostalgia from the 70s and 80s involved but honestly, excellent music for that 4+ hour journey.

If you have a rental car that doesn't charge your GPS as you travel, chances are you might have some challenging experiences when attempting to reach your destination

First hint of trouble was in Verona.  Many people were approached for directions to our final destination in the heart of the ancient city.  Rijeka, and voila, although we tried to leave the GPS alone and simply rely on it for the complicated city-leaving and arrival parts ... the GPS battery started to die about one kilometre from our destination.

About then we became suspicious of the coincidence of the destination flag appearing and the battery warning appearing.  Maybe it had some kind of bug in the machine. 

Budapest ... about a kilometre from our destination, having really rested the GPS, up came the battery warning along with the destination flag. We were caught in a long traffic jam on the other side of the river.  Julie laughed.  I was not amused.

We crossed over into Austria yesterday and barely used the GPS.  No flag appeared as we neared our Vienna destination ... the 'bug' in the GPS suspicion is over.  The rental car has a faulty charger.  We shall proceed with caution, relying mostly on the big highway signs.  It's Trieste today and a longer journey that will take us through Slovenia.

But back to other things learned ... be clear on destinations programmed into the GPS. We had hoped to call in for lunch in Zagreb but managed to miscommunicate on programming that idea in.  We passed by and realised, after a conversation, that we love the journey as much as the destinations so we continued on.  4+ hours of road-tripping was a really excellent Plan B, although we did detour to a secondary road and visit a lake before leaving Hungary.

Budapest, brilliant city.  Loved it but more to follow in another post. 

Julie's handbag.  The one that sits behind us on the floor of the backseat.  Yes Julie, it is a marvellous bag that holds so much but ... let's be sure that I pull out your sunglasses, your normal glasses, your lip balm, your iPod music player (although that's more useful if charged), and every other thing I have had to grapple with on the road trip while you have driven us across Europe.

But okay, yes, perhaps it would have lacked a certain sense of achievement had we been that organised.

Air B&B, a great way to travel. We've stayed in local homes and apartments, met excellent people that I have to write more about when I have all the information and life isn't about the journey.  I'm writing this from a student flat in Vienna, where one of our hosts is a lovely Croatian guy studying architecture.  He was just in Rijeka last week.  They are a delightful couple and we're glad that we did it.  Julie organised it all and she has made me a convert because I do love meeting people where ever I go.   

It's another big old apartment complex with at least two inner courtyards.  The Budapest apartment was my favourite so far ... directly behind the opera house and truly exquisite, inner courtyard, beautiful ironwork on the inside and that delicious sense that you are experiencing something of an everyday life in each place.

Learned while living in Istanbul ... always look for cafes and restaurants that are full of locals. Do not be tempted to do anything else.  If you know someone, all the better, ask them where to eat.  We have eaten divinely while traveling.   It's been less about expensive and upmarket and so very much about good local food.  Hungary has been my absolute favourite so far. 

If in doubt about where to eat, stop someone who looks like they might eat in places you would like to eat in.  Asking politely worked every time.

Wines ... some countries you can barely go wrong, other countries have a wine culture to be explored with caution.  Perhaps that's as specific as I'll get but I do love countries where I can find my beloved Italian red wines. We enjoyed this Croatian red wine.   And were really impressed by Hungarian red wine ... absolutely lovely.  Thanks to Jennifer.

Men from Manchester on stag weekends in Budapest ... very friendly, quite naughty but with a lovely humour that meant we always wandered away on laughing.  We met 3 groups on our second night there.  Yes, they made us laugh.

Croatians in Rijeka speak beautiful English.  We were told by the lovely wine guy that they start studying it in fourth grade.  Hungarians in Budapest also speak beautiful English. 

Maybe that's enough for this post.  I wanted to finish up with a photograph of the most divine fish and chips I've had any place so far ...located on Andrássy Avenue, we would absolutely recommend The Bigfish restaurant because their cod and chips were sublime.