culture

The Cats of Istanbul

Istanbul’s cats are quite the tourist attraction, but I had no idea they even existed till a few weeks before I got there. I’m sure they didn’t know I existed either, so we’re even. In case you couldn’t tell from my previous Istanbul post, I love the little furballs. Knowing I’d have a virtual army of them to keep me company whilst travelling alone made me happy. But when there, I was left in two minds. Well, actually I was left in about 100 minds. (more…)

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Venice Part 1 – the everyday side of one of the world’s most photographed city

What could I possibly tell you about Venice that you don’t already know? Or haven’t already seen? It would have to be one of the most photographed places in the world wouldn’t it? Well, when I was walking around Venice, taking shots of all the most photographed buildings, monuments and alleyways, I even began to bore myself. Well, as much as looking at endless beauty can bore anyone. So I began to snap the locals going about their day instead, trying to get an idea of what it would be like to actually live in a giant lagoon.

The beautiful stuff I’ll post next, but for this one, here’s some of the ordinary, everyday aspects of living, working and visiting Venice.

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This is a Vaporetto station, the Venetian version of a bus or train station. It’s floating too, so waiting for your ride is like a ride in itself.

The Vaporetto’s are usually absolutely packed. This guy makes sure everyone gets on and off safely.

From what I experienced, this is a pretty empty version of a Vaporetto ride.

From what I experienced, this would be classed as pretty empty. Aww, it’s just like being on The Tube in London. With prettier scenery.

Does anyone on public transport ever look happy?

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The Police…

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The Paramedics

The Garbage Man...

The Garbage Man…

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The garbo’s doing their thing. Bet you’ve never pictured this version of The Grand Canal.

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Delivery guys…

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The craftsmen who make the Gondolas.

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A not so busy Gondolier.

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A Day in Budapest Part 3 – Simply/Szimpla Ruined

If there’s one thing that’ll put an almighty spring in your step, it’s a couple shots of Palinka.

NB: When you write any kind of trilogy – or quadrilogy as it looks like this will become since I’m crap at that thing called editing – you’re supposed to fill in those who came into the story late, so that when you make references to the shenanigans in previous parts, they know what the hell Palinka is. But really, I’m too lazy. So, if something’s not making sense, maybe go back and read Part 1 here and then Part 2 here and we’ll all be nice and caught up. I mean, think about it, if you started the Harry Potter books with The Chamber of Secrets, you’d never know what Polyjuice was, and that would be tragic.

If my energy was in any way starting to lag from this Budapest tour Julia was taking me on, one shot of Palinka was all the jump-start this old fart’s batteries needed. To Julia, having grown up with it, Palinka is probably akin to a fruity cordial. To me, it’s the stuff we all wish Sandra Bullock found in that Russian space ship’s fuel tank in Gravity so we’d have been saved from the corniest three minutes on film ever. So when we left the Toldi cinema to move on to the ruin pub Szimpla, I was pretty much strutting down Kazinczy street like I was John Travolta at the end of Saturday Night Fever.

Don’t worry, it wore off.

Maybe I’m criminally unhip when it comes to ‘what’s hot’, but I’d never heard of ruin pubs until about a couple of years ago. So I’ll pretend you haven’t either. Szimpla Kert (kert meaning garden), probably the most well known of Budapest’s ruin pubs, opened in 2004. Well it actually opened in 2001, but moved around a couple times until it found its present location in Kazinczy street in District VII a few years later. Ruin Pubs are an amazing example of enterprise, of young people making the most of their city’s dire economic situation. Put bluntly, the Real Estate situation in Budapest is f****d and yes, I did some research so I can back up that sweary statement with fact. Excuse me while I be all professional for a moment. In their “Emerging Real Estate Trends 2014” report, Price Waterhouse Coopers concluded that of the 28 European countries they surveyed,  as well as having the highest office vacancy rates, “Budapest continues to be on par with Athens as investors continue to avoid the city on concerns about politics and the general economic outlook.” In my layman’s head that means nobody’s spending any money on real estate, nobody’s building new buildings and nobody has the money to renovate those that exist so they’re falling apart and nobody’s renting them. It’s been this way for years, to the point that certain areas of Budapest are awash with dilapidated, abandoned, need I say ruined buildings ready for demolition.

But the owners of Szimpla looked at it differently. They saw an opportunity; insanely cheap rents.  Coupled with their very handy ‘shabby’ decorating theme, this meant no expensive refit needed and, from the looks of most ruin pubs, no massive cleaning bills either (not in an ‘oh my god this place is so dirty I’ll get through a few packs of sanitary wipes before the night’s out’ way, more of a ‘nobody’s ever going to get on a ladder and clean those cobwebs off the ceiling’ way). They simply (hah) installed bars and filled every inch of the place, even the ceilings, with trinkets from their youth, upcycled bits and bobs and one of  just about every little nick-nack you’d find at garage sales across the country. And a phenomenon was born.

Actually, it’s easier if I just show you.

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The exterior of Szimpla Kertz. Would you look at this building and think one of the coolest, most popular bars in Budapest was inside?

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Would you believe… the ATM.

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This is a Trabant (which has been Szimpli-fied) a much maligned Eastern bloc era car that many Hungarian families would have owned during socialism.

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A Day In Budapest Part 2 – one Palinka, two Palinka, three Palinka… zzzzzzz

After a breakfast of porn (this will explain), we felt like continuing the day with some more culture, just less X-rated. Last time I checked, Budapest has 163, 298 galleries and exhibitions at any one time, give or take, so the hard part is never likely to be finding culture, but choosing just which type to see. We chose the Ethnographic Museum, or Folk Museum as it’s also known, simply because it had a bicycle exhibition.

Cycling in Hungary is having a moment. Bike to work programmes have now been around for a couple of years, many of Budapest’s main roads have cycle lanes and people are beginning to use cycling as an everyday means of transport. They have even started a city bike share scheme called ‘Bubi’ but my guide for the day, Julia, simply sees this as yet another example of government ineptitude. As she explained, you first need to register for Bubi before you can take any bikes, so visitors cannot simply walk up to a bike station and rent a bike. What tourist will bother with the paperwork and time needed for registration, she argues? Better to just rent one from a bike shop.

When we walked into the museum, there was a coat check of sorts to the left, some stairs in front of us and a sign pointing downstairs to a Gallery Shop on the right. There was no ticket counter or information area, just a boy at the top of the stairs sitting behind a little table with a laptop, so we went to him. He didn’t look up, so we stood there awkwardly for a bit, while disinterest wafted off him like lack of deodorant allegedly does Matthew McConaughey and Brad Pitt. From where we stood we could see he was on Facebook, so Julia interrupted his important social media work to ask him where the tickets were. Sighing, he barely moved his eyes from the screen and told her you get them from the gift shop.

The interior of the neo-classical Ethnographic Museum is stunning. Located just across the road from the Parliament building, it used to be the Palace of Justice. The lobby is quite imposing, with its marble columns and staircases, huge stain glassed windows and a ceiling fresco by Karoly Lotz, the 19th century painter whose works you can see in many of Budapest’s public buildings. There’s one permanent exhibition showcasing typical Hungarian folk life, what they dressed like, what they ate, their tools and their houses and temporary exhibits rotate throughout the year, most notably the annual World Press Photo competition. If you find yourself ticking your way through a list of tourist attractions in Budapest and you’re at Parliament anyway, it’s well worth the visit.

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A small section of the ceiling fresco by Karoly Lotz in the Ethnographic Museum

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More detail of the inside of the Museum.

So down we went to the gift shop, where we came across a girl this time, chatting to someone I assumed was a customer. Again we weren’t acknowledged and it was quickly apparent they were just two friends having a chat. Only once their conversation came to a natural end did the girl turn to us and, with a tad less indifference than the boy upstairs, sell us two tickets. On the way back upstairs, I wondered whether we were allowed to take photos inside, so poor Julia had to face the rolling eyes of the lobby boy again. When he told her we had to buy a photo ticket from the shop, it was my turn for some eye rolling.

The photo ticket cost only about £1, but really, besides a lifetime of brainwashing, I don’t know why I bothered. We saw nobody else inside the exhibition spaces and the only staff member we came across was a security guard trying to get some sleep in a corner. At roughly £3 for entry to the museum itself, the lack of customer service almost makes me embarrassed to mention it. Almost. On the other hand, if I’d paid £10, I probably would have got a bit antsy and done something awfully passive aggressive, like recording my dissatisfaction on a comment card. (more…)

A Day in Budapest Part 1 – a breakfast of porn; food porn and yep, the other porn

We stood in the rain outside a brown wooden door in Budapest’s District VII, scrambling to put on our waterproof jackets. I hadn’t wanted a day traipsing round tourist spots, ticking off monuments, palaces and bath houses. I wanted cooler than that. A cursory glance at Julia’s Facebook friends (that’s with a Y sound, like in eulogy, not a J, like in Roberts), mostly arty-farty twenty-something’s, and I knew Budapest had an alternative side. So far so good.

But I’d neglected to check the weather. I blamed this on the fact that Julia had been bragging about how lovely it had been for the past couple of weeks in Budapest and how she was was developing a suntan in May, not my own laziness and/or stupidity. So Julia had brought me her brother’s rain jacket for the day. It was going to be very hard to be cool when I was dressed as a dorky tourist, but as Julia said, at least I was now a dry, dorky tourist. I would have told me that I was never cool in the first place too, but unlike Australians, Hungarians’ first instincts are not to insult their friends as a form of bonding.

The door we stood next to, and the windows on either side of it, was boarded up with paper. Julia looked at the sign above our heads and translated for me.

‘Second Hand Sex Shop.”

I’m not sure what the international sign for ‘Ewww’ is, but I’m pretty sure our faces were making it. Even with the promise of commercial grade cleaning, neither of us would ever dream of buying someone’s used sex toys. So who would? Lulled by equal parts adventure, curiosity and disgust, we went in.

I guess I could have figured out the translation all by myself if I'd tried, couldn't I?

I guess I could have figured out the translation all by myself if I’d tried, couldn’t I?

Julia was perhaps the perfect guide for me that day. I’d been promised an insider’s guide to Budapest, the grungy, dirty, secret side. But when she said dirty, I honestly thought she meant the kind of dirt that goes with grunge, not the (some would say) filthy type one might find behind this door. (more…)

Food, glorious (Italian) food

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As I mentioned in my last post, before I went to Puglia in May I was fortunate to make contact with Caroline Edwards, advocate/promoter/endorser of all things worth knowing in Puglia. Caroline took me along to a tasting session with a company in Martina Franca called Selecto, and I was able to sample some of Puglia’s scrummy local products.

Selecto take the best local delicacies, source the best producers of those delicacies in all of Puglia, then package them under the brands Tebamia (for supplying restaurants and retailers) and Deapulia (for online orders). If you’re already familiar with Puglian food, maybe you’ve long wished for another taste of hard to find cheeses like cacciocavallo, provolone or peccorino. Or maybe you dream about peperonettto (peppers stuffed with tuna), soppressata (spicy sausage) or confettura di cipolla rossa (red onion jam). Or maybe you just remember that you had some of the best wine of your life in Puglia. Well, even though I’m sure a quick trip to Italy to stock up would be lovely, you don’t have to get on a plane to taste them again because Selecto deliver worldwide. All hail the wonders of the internet!

And if you just happen to be in Puglia right now, get in contact with them and arrange a visit to their shop in Martina Franca. You won’t be able to resist making a purchase or two, so best bring something to take them home in. An empty suitcase should just about do it.

If mere words aren’t enough to tempt you, here’s some pictures I took:

Peperonetto…

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bite sized Peperonetto…

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The quality of the packaging makes it a perfect gift too (if you can bare to share)…

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