Sunday, 27 April 2014

Liebster Award - a black cat came my way so...

The Italian Backpacker has been nominated for the Liebster Award!

Serena of Souvenirs from a Black Cat nominated me for this interesting game award. It's a chance to get to know new bloggers (ideally under or around 600 followers)  and to exchange opinions about travelling and travel blogging.
In order to play you have to:
  • Thank the blogger who has nominated you;
  • Answer the ten questions;
  • Nominate other 10 travel bloggers;
  • Ask them 10 questions.
And now to the questions that Serena has asked:
1. How much does photography counts when you travel? If you had to do one trip without being able to take any pictures would you consider it a "wasted" one or you wouldn't care that much?
In the past I took many trips without taking any pictures, but since I've started my blog and bought a better camera I love taking pictures while travelling and I cannot imagine a holiday without my camera. I'm also trying to learn some tricks to make my pictures more interesting, and the world of editing has also helped me having fun with my pictures!

2. Always talking about photos, which "unusual" subjects do you like to picture when travelling?

I sometimes take pictures of souvenir or postcard stands, just to highlight the difference between the hyper-touristic and the more "real" side of a place.

Postcard stand in Venice

3. Which destination has made you unexpectedly fall in love even if at first you thought you wouldn't have liked it?

I've recently been to Innsbruck, in Austria, for a conference, and I totally fell in love with the town. Before leaving, I thought Innsbruck would be boring, but it's not. It's a charming town with a cute historical centre and friendly smiling people. It has a pretty decent food scene too!

4. Who is your ideal travelmate and which characteristics are making him/her so?

I've been travelling alone lately, and I have found out that I love to do so and it fits me. It's something you understand only when you try it: the thrill down your spine at the thought of your freedom, the empowerment and the great possibilities that you get from such an experience. I have however an ideal travel partner, a friend I've gone on a trip with many times in the past. She is open-minded, flexible, and good at organizing things. I think it's very important to travel with the right people, and not just with some random friends.
5 . Do you still send out postcards when travelling or do you consider it a bit nonsense nowadays?

I used to collect postcards, but nowadays nobody spends time to write and send postcards. It's such a pity! It was the thrill of getting an unexpected postcard, rather than the urge to collect as many places as possible, that made it magical. I still buy postcards of the places I visit, though.
6. Which experience have you done while travelling that you would have never considered you'd have found the courage to do?

Just recently I booked a plane ticket to Morocco, and I'm going there alone! To visit Morocco has been a dream of mine for years, but I was hesitant about going. I never thought I would take this step, but many other travel bloggers have encouraged me to do so. You will read the tales of this new adventures on my blog very soon!
7. Which is your favourite travel quote?
I think it's already a classic, but I love the following quote: “Travel is the only thing that you buy that makes you richer”. I don't care much for clothes and expensive gadgets, but I don't regret when my money goes on travelling. That and books are my passions.
8. Who is the weirdest character you have ever met when travelling?

I once couchsurfed in England and ended up staying at this guy's place together with like eight other people, some of us sleeping on airbeds, others on yoga mats in the kitchen. The guy was literally filling up his flat with couchsurfers every night, while getting drunk and stoned at the same time. His explanations about what to see  and what to do in Bath of course made little sense. He was really kind to us, though, and fun. On that occasion I met an Israeli couple that I'm still in contact with, and every now and then we still text each other. The text contains simply the name of the guy, and we burst out laughing thinking of that crazy night in Bath!
9. Have you ever made an organized tour? Which is your opinion about it?

I've never been on an organized tour, other than the occasional day trip by bus for special destinations like Stonehenge. Of course group tours don't give you as much freedom and flexibility as independent travelling, and it might impact that feeling of getting to know a place for real, but I think it's a good option for visiting countries that you wouldn't be comfortable visiting on your own. This is particularly relevant for solo women travellers. I would consider a group tour if I've ever make it to India, for instance! There are also some companies, like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel, that offer a travel style where you might feel more in contact with locals, i.e. using public transport and sleeping in small guesthouses. I wouldn't mind trying one of those in the future.

10. Which particular goal would you like to reach with your blog?
I hope to inspire people to travel more, in whichever way the like, alone or with company, with a backpack or a suitcase, short term or long term. It also gives me great pleasure to write about the places that I visit, to reflect about them and wrap up a nice story. I like to read travel stories where people observe what's happening around them, and really share their impressions on the country or city they're visiting. This blog is also a reminder TO MYSELF that I want to travel more.

And now it's time for the nominees! These writers can, if they feel like of course, answer the ten questions that follow.

Here are the questions I have prepared for you:

  1. Why did you start a travel blog in the first place and what to you wish to accomplish?
  2. How would you define your style of travelling?
  3. What kind of things excite you the most while travelling?
  4. Are there things that annoy you, instead, while travelling?
  5. Is there a destination you could keep going back to countless times?
  6. Do you ever travel alone? If yes, how does that make you feel? And if no, would you ever consider doing that?
  7. Do you believe in the distinction between traveller and tourist?
  8. Do you ever feel compelled to do certain things, like a particular day trip or activity that is always mentioned as a “must-do”, while travelling?
  9. Is there a country or a city that you have no interest in visiting?
  10. What role does photography have in your blog?

UPDATE: I have also received nominations from John of In the Loop Travel and from Lila of Foreign Feasts. Thank you both for this honour!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The fairy-tale Bavarian castles: Neuschwanstein and Linderhof

In Germany being punctual is the norm, and it is always expected of you. I had heard this before, so I left my friend's apartment near Munich's Ostbahnhof early. I hadn't taken into consideration, though, that on weekends there are fewer trains than on weekdays, so I had to wait 8 minutes for my S-bahn train to Munich Hauptbahnhof, where my bus tour of the Bavarian castles was waiting for me.

When I arrived at the station, I looked at the watch: I would meet my bus right on time, at 8.30 sharp, not bad for an Italian. After all, we are not very famous for being on time, are we? Little did I know that I would be the last to join my tour, the lady in charge crossing out my name and then telling the driver to leave! Ah, these German people, are they even human?

Jokes aside, I usually dislike bus tours: you are told when to stop for lunch and how long to spend in one place or the other, and if your are a minute late, you might find the bus leaving without you. When I was given a complimentary ticket for a tour of the Bavarian castles, however, I couldn't complain: I was saving the 23€ of the train ticket, and what's more I would be visiting not one but two castles, while learning something about them on the way.
After a very scenic drive through the Bavarian Alps, the bus finally parked in what seemed to be a quiet spot in the middle of nowhere. "Our first stop is Schloss Linderhof", the tour guide announced, "the only castle that King Ludwig II saw completed in his short life".

Schloss Linderhof, from the top
Schloss Linderhof

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

My culinary discoveries in Germany and Austria

1) Knödels
One of the most memorable meals I had during my short trip to Germany and Austria was at Knödlerei in Salzburg. This place was a suggestion of my friend Kat, an Austrian friend who was so kind to drive all the way from Vienna to meet me for lunch and have a stroll around Salzburg afterwards. Knödlerei is a lovely and informal place next to the university building, and offers many kinds of dumplings, from the traditional ones to some creative varieties, with wasabi or salmon. I had tried the signature dish of this part of Europe before, and was disappointed. After trying Knödlerei, however, I understood that, when made by expert hands, knödels can  be very very tasty. I chose a selection of different traditional knödels, served with onion sauce and sauerkraut, and tackled my sightseeing in Salzburg with a full belly. Guten appetit!

Yummy knoedels dish at Knoedlerei, courtesy of 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Munich in April - the flowers, the beer gardens and the quirkiness

Who knew that in April Munich  was so full of flowers! From tulips of all colours to  yellow daffodils, when I visited the city was full of beautiful flowerbeds, carefully tended and very pleasant to see. This is the thing that has struck me the most about Munich.
Munich and the flowers
Flower beds in Munich
I don't know if the wooden structure in the picture above is the cover of a fountain for the winter or if that weird but cute square stays like that all year round!
Munich and the flowers2
Flowers in Munich

Sure, there is also Marienplazt with its famous glockenspiel, the Theatinerkirche with its yellow-painted façade, and of course the lovely Englischer Garten. I really enjoyed walking through the latter, which is the main park in Munich. The city is rich in green areas, but Englischer Garten is one of the biggest city parks in the world. It's bigger than Central Park in New York, can you believe it? It draws its name from the way the English used to lay out of the landscape. Like in English gardens, pavilions are scattered throughout the park.

Englischer Garten, Munich
Englischer Garten

The most famous pavilion in the park is the lovely Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm), which  also hosts a famous biergarten. I think we should really thank German people for beer gardens: such a cool place to relax with a beer and a bratwurst. Did you know that you can also bring your own food and picnic there? The Chinese Tower is a wooden structure built for the first time at the end of the eighteenth century, when people really liked chinoiseries, that is to say Chinese things. It also reminds me of the temples in Bali! Here traditional folk music is played, while people enjoy a beer and traditional German food. 

Chinese Tower, Munich
Biergarten at the Chinesischer Turm

Of course I couldn't help having a beer and a bratwurst, while with my friend Irina I explored the city. The atmosphere is relaxed and nobody will rush you. I must add that the weather was excellent when I visited!

With a beer

I found Munich to be a clean, tidy city. Its austere architecture may put you off at first, but you'll soon notice the good vibe of the city. It's very clear, while you're walking down the streets of Munich, that you are in a lively, energetic city that's projected towards the future. There is hope in Munich, and people seem happy: the restaurants are full, and the people have money to spend.

Flowers in Munich
Flowers in Marienplatz

There are some pretty quirky things here to visit as well. First of all, I loved all of its statues. The city is scattered with unusual and fanciful statues, like that of Red Riding Hood. Perhaps the connection is through Grimm's fairy tales. Another statue I encountered near Marienplatz is one of Juliet from Shakespeare's play, where - like in Verona - it brings good luck to touch the woman's boob.

Statue, Munich
Juliet statue near Marienplatz

The weirdest attraction of Munich is not a statue, though. While I was walking in the city centre with my friend, we passed in front of the Bayerischer  Hof, a 5-star hotel, and we found this shrine dedicated to Michael Jackson. Apparently he stayed at this hotel some time before his death, and people began leaving flowers, photos and candles in front of it. The memorial is of course unofficial, as the monument is dedicated to another person, an Orlando di Lasso who I am sure is not very happy about this arrangement. There were some ladies taking care of the shrine, and I wonder if they are MJ's fans.
Shrine to Michael Jackson, Munich
Shrine to Michael Jackson in front of the Bayerishcer Hof
By the way, I have declared Germans the weirdos of Europe (in an affectionate way). Who else could come up with the idea of surfing on the permanent wave of a river in downtown Munich? 

I'll end this post by talking of Viktualienmarkt. It is a really cute open-air market where you can find everything from fresh smoothies to decorations for your home. I really liked walking through the stalls and browse all the Easter decorations on offer.

Viktualienmarkt, Munich
Fruit stall in Viktualienmarkt
I have more to write about Munich, but I'll save it for another post! Bis bald, Munich!

The old town hall

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Insider tips for a hassle-free visit to Venice

Many people have come visit me in Venice throughout the years. Over time I have come up with some tips that will make your visit to Venice more rewarding and completely free of hassles. As a hyper-touristic city, Venice is not always easy to navigate without passing dozens of shops with tacky souvenirs, expensive restaurants and hordes of people with cameras and shorts, but I have done my best here to show you how to enjoy Venice.

Ponte dei Sospiri, Venice
Ponte dei Sospiri

Try to avoid July and August! During the summer Venice is so full of tourists that it's almost impossible to appreciate its beauty. With all those people taking the same photo from the Accademia Bridge or fighting to have their picture taken in front of Ponte dei Sospiri, you'll find yourself fighting for space. Most people who have visited Venice and have hated it came in the summer, stayed only one or two days, saw how packed it can be and left disappointed. Moreover, Venice can become uncomfortably wet when it's hot. Try to come in spring (April or May are perfect) or in autumn (September is great). Winter can also be an interesting time to visit, because the city is often covered in fog, and there's hardly anyone around.

Nightmare in Venice, St. Mark's Square

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Treviso: not just the Ryanair airport

Treviso is the town in north-eastern Italy where I went to school, and the village where I grew up is only half an hour away in the countryside. I don't go often to Treviso nowadays, but the other day I coupled my walk in the historic centre with a visit to an exhibition held at Ca' dei Carraresi on classical India and its charms.

Treviso is a sleepy town with absolutely no tourists, half an hour away from Venice by train, and it's full of medieval buildings, quiet canals and also stylish boutique shops. It is smaller than Verona or Vicenza, and life here runs slowly. Even though it's not a touristic town, there are some cute corners if you know where to look. The fact that there are virtually no tourists made me look strange with a camera in my hands: people were staring at me and wondering why I was taking pictures! Has that ever happened to you?

Canale dei Buranelli, Treviso
A view of Treviso (Canale dei Buranelli)
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