Monthly Archives: October 2017

Great Destination on Tel Aviv

On Saturdays, I… head to the beach like the rest of Tel Aviv. My favourite is Hilton Beach, on the city’s northern coast, which includes TLV’s unofficial gay beach and a dog-walkers’ beach. Off-season it’s a tranquil stretch of sand to walk my dog, Boots, and on-season, it’s party central, filled with tanned sun-worshippers and locals throwing frisbees. Right behind this beach is Independence Park, an often overlooked green space that offers spectacular vistas of the Mediterranean and even Old Jaffa to the south.

My children love going to… Park HaYarkon, where they can run around grassy parkland and play to their heart’s content at one of the many playgrounds with slides, wooden climbing frames and swings. For a grand day out with the little ones, we head out of town to Safari Ramat Gan, famous for its drive-through area and zoo.

No trip to Tel Aviv would be complete without… tucking into a messy falafel. Although said to have originated from Egypt, this fried chickpea ball, usually served with salad in pita bread, has become synonymous with Tel Aviv. Falafel stalls can be found on almost every major street corner, and a manna (‘portion’) costs less than 20NIS. Other street food favourites include shawarma (kebab meat in a large wrap) and sabich (fried aubergine with egg) – all of these can be found at HaKosem.

The best way to cool down is… by sampling the world-class ice cream at Arte, which serves up bona fide Italian gelato, including a whole range of vegan varieties on Nahalat Binyamin St. The frozen yogurt at Tamara on Rothschild Blvd also offers healthier sweet options of tapioca or granola with fruit.

Mysticism and inspiring contradictions seem to surround Isabel Allende

Magic, mysticism and inspiring contradictions seem to surround Isabel Allende. She is arguably Chile’s most famous living writer, and yet, she doesn’t live permanently in her homeland, opting instead to continue her exile, which dates back to the dangerous days following Salvador Allende’s removal from office in the 1973 coup d’etat.

Her relationship to the socialist president – he was her father’s cousin, thus her uncle once removed – coupled with her work as a journalist and commentator, necessitated her hasty departure from her homeland. But Chile still remains front and center in her life and her work, and Allende returns for several months most years to revisit and reconnect with the land and people that inspire her.

As a writer, Allende has enjoyed massive success. Her books have been translated into 35 languages, selling more than 65 million copies worldwide. She is perhaps most famous for the novels The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna, but she’s authored more than 20 books over her long career, winning countless international accolades for her work, which draws its inspiration not just from her past, but also from the idiosyncrasies and intricacies of her homeland’s landscape and people.

Isabel Allende: Hospitality… I think we’re very hospitable people, especially with foreigners. Not so much with each other. But you’ll always find opened houses and people ready to welcome you. You know people just drop in, you don’t need to call or be invited. Just drop in. As soon you cross the threshold of a Chilean house you’ll be offered something to drink. Even in the most modest house, where they have nothing, they will offer you tea or water or whatever they have. I think that’s our nicest trait.

A guide to Venice’s neighbourhoods

While most cities are broken into quarters, Venice is divided into six districts or sestieri. Although it’s a compact city, each of Venice’s neighbourhoods has its own characteristics, offering you something a little different and distinctive wherever you wander.

Read on to find out the best place to stay if you’re keen on cuisine, which neighbourhood will indulge your artistic eye, or where to head for a bit of uncharacteristically quiet Venice.

Shopping in San Marco
San Marco contains the Venetian crown jewels in the form of the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, located in the eponymous square. For this reason, it is also the most densely populated in terms of tourists and purveyors of souvenirs. Whether you are just visiting or a local, this is definitely the neighbourhood for shopaholics. Via XXII Marzo is the Holy Grail of shopping in Venice, showcasing the biggest and the best of Italian designers. It is the most prestigious postcode in town and the plethora of antique shops, chichi clothing stores and art dealers, as well as the yacht club, are testimony to this. This district contains some of the loveliest hotels and is ideal for first-time visitors and those with little time as the main sights are on your doorstep.

The community of Cannaregio
Cannaregio once had a reputation for being a little rough and it still wears its working-class badge with pride. There is a strong sense of community here and the neighbourhood has managed to retain butcher shops and bakeries, along with other local enterprises that have been priced out of other areas. The sestiere has seen a recent revival of vibrant Jewish cultural life, with shops and kosher restaurants reflecting this.

The district is a pleasing paradox, being both family-friendly thanks to its two parks (the Savorgnan and the Groggia) and swimming pool, as well as the place to go for the best in wine bars and restaurants on the Fondamenta della Misericordia. So stay here if you have kids who need to let off steam, and stay here if you like to let off steam with a late-night tipple or two!

Cruising down Russia’s ancient waterway

You might recall the names of great Russian rivers like the Volga or the Yenisey from geography lessons, but the Oka is unlikely to be one of them despite its easy-to-remember and affirmatively sounding name. Yet, as the main transport route of the ancient Muscovite princedom, it has more history and at least as much appeal for travellers as its more famous sisters.
With Oka cruises now resumed after a 20-year break, a chain of millennia-old historic towns along its banks are beginning to rival the Golden Ring as worthwhile destinations in the vicinity of Moscow.
The Oka river is one of two major tributaries of the Volga, and its basin borders on that of the Dnipro, which is why Kievan Slavs – led by their Viking princes – used it as the main route for colonising the lands that form the historic core of what we now know as Russia. Wooden Viking-style boats, the ladyas, were pulled by ropes across narrow and low-lying watersheds in the manner lately depicted in the Netflix series Vikings (the siege of Paris episodes).

Originating in southern Russia, the Oka flows north via the pretty town of Oryol before resolutely turning to the east near the industrial city of Kaluga. For the next few hundred kilometres, it skirts the border of the Moscow region – its wooded banks have long been favoured by the residents of the Russian capital as a place for weekend picnics and for building their summer cottages. The river passes the first cluster of dachas (country houses) and bohemian haunts near Serpukhov and Tarusa.
This upper section of the Oka is not covered by cruises – they originate in Moscow and follow the Moscow river down to its confluence with the Oka at Kolomna (120km east of Serpukhov and 113km south of Moscow), a little gem of a town and a popular day-trip destination for Muscovites. The main highlight is a section of the wall and the two towers that remain from the town’s kremlin (medieval fortress). Other remainders of the ramparts and towers are scattered around the courtyards of 18th-century merchants’ stone houses and traditional wooden cottages.

A couple of local museums stage shows celebrating major local crafts. One is dedicated to the production of large bread loafs, known as kalachi. Another is all about the Russian-style marshmallow, pastila. Both shows end with a tea party prominently featuring each of the products. But the quirkiest sight in Kolomna is Artkommunalka – a museum-cum-art-residence that meticulously re-creates the atmosphere of a 1960s communal flat, which housed millions of people during Soviet times. A variety of interactive tours and quests are on offer (all in Russian), but perhaps the best experience is to pre-order lunch in the communal kitchen and play kitchen dissidents for the duration of your stay.

Bohemian getaways from Moscow

Nothing in classic Russian literature captures the idea of paradise lost better than Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The M2 highway going directly south from Moscow passes a few notable countryside retreats – including Chekhov’s own at Melikhovo (80km) where the writer’s modest estate, now a wonderful museum, is located. But the main ‘cherry-orchard’ belt lies further south.
Since the end of the 19th century, urban escapists have been gravitating towards a cluster of bohemian dacha (country house) settlements in the valley of the Oka River around the sleepy town of Tarusa, roughly 130km down the M2. Later in the 20th century, the Soviet authorities created a practical reason for the bohemians to move here, on top of the idyllic scenery. Many of those who survived Gulag prison camps were not allowed to settle closer than 100km from Moscow, which is why artists, writers and musicians ended up starting their new lives after prison here.

But the story begins long before the Soviets. One of the earliest settlers was artist Vasily Polenov, who built his estate in a beautiful wooded area across the river from Tarusa in the 1890s. The money came from a single painting he sold to the tsar – Jesus and the Sinner Woman, which is today on display at the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. The estate, now called Polenovo, remains the main magnet for visitors to the area.
The estate’s architectural eclecticism reflects the progressive cultural trends of that age – designed by the owner, the buildings reveal his fascination with Germany, Italy as well as Russian folklore. Polenov gave each building a romantic name: for instance, the sweet little cottage that houses the artists’ studio was christened ‘the Abbey’. Further along a footpath, lined with giant fairytale-like fir trees, stands a summer theatre – an open-air structure with ancient Greek and Gothic architectural elements covered in red American ivy.

The local peasants were welcome to watch the plays, which is why – uniquely and amazingly – Polenov retained the estate after the 1917 revolution and died here in very old age a decade later. Now a museum open for visitors, the estate is still run by his family that lives on the premises. The area is great for leisurely walks through the woods, fields and along the meandering river with its sandy beaches. The water gets warm enough to swim in summer (but beware of the strong current!).
These days the area still attracts the trendy crowd, just like in Polenov’s times. Mark & Lev restaurant manifests all that is good about Moscow’s gastro-hipster culture, which benefits from Russia’s ban on foodstuffs produced in the EU by encouraging local production. Branding their brainchild ‘a locavore place’ and getting most products from an adjacent farm, the owners subject traditional Russian staples to modern cooking techniques, and the result is most satisfying. Try the steamed sturgeon with spelt, and water it down with house-made kvas (traditional Russian fermented drink made from rye bread) or local beer.

Mark & Lev is about 5km on the way from Polenovo back to the main highway. It’s possible to walk the distance along the riverbank via the village of Bekhovo, whose pretty art nouveau church was designed by Polenov in 1904. Further down the same road, the village of Podmoklovo has an interesting Italianesque church, which is the venue of an annual festival of medieval music played using period instruments.