Friday, April 1, 2016

A Little Balkan Shuffle

The other Eternal City, with seven hills no less: the Acropolis, hoisting a glowing Parthenon above the city, is one of them.

Uninhibited zest for life meets soulful dancing at Klimataria, in Athens. (Click on photo to enlarge and view slideshow.)

A Belgrade native observes the Sava River and its bridges, targeted by the NATO bombing campaign in 1999 but destined to be saved by the people of the city, who danced and toasted on them all night long. Having made lemons out of lemonade (they were ordered by the government to act as human shields), many Belgradians remember these makeshift parties as some of the best nights of their lives.

Let it be known that anywhere in the Balkans is where you should be visiting now. The landscape is intriguing, the people are warm and welcoming, the history is fascinating!

Recent forays into the former Yugoslavia and to Greece left Mediterranean Moves agape at the local beauty, tastes and mentality.

At To Je To, the Cevapcici is hearty and divine, and served with fermented cabbage, pita, mustard and sour cream.

My host Ria welcomed me and my buddy Liz at Rome if You Want To to Athens with an assortment of homegrown goods from her native Corinth, along with tzatziki and some curative Rakia (the week before, the Serbians generously plied us with their version of the same liqueur, Rakija, in an assortment of fruit varieties.)

A seafood fry tempts at an Athens restaurant specializing in cuisine from the island of Lesbos. (Meanwhile, its diners specialize in Opa.)

The stamp of the Ottoman Turks is distinctly and keenly noticed in southeastern Europe , whether in the Turkish (nay, Serbian!) coffee tried in Belgrade - an improved-upon version of that tried last year in the Rhodes Old Town - in the joyous abundance of honey-infused baklava in both Belgrade and Athens, or in the gorgeously fiery and intense music savored at Saran in the Serbian town of Zemun, and at Klimataria, in what has long been considered a gritty barrio next to the Monistiraki district of Athens.

Paint me a picture of the Blue Danube: the Petrovardin Fortress reigns high above the terrain, facing Serbia's third city of Novi Sad from across Europe's second-longest river.

These places are all heart, soul, and ancient fable. For now my little Balkan shuffle has come to a close, but of course the shuffler is angling to resume the dance, particularly to Sarajevo, the Montenegrin Coast, and equally to Dubrovnik and Zagreb!

An olive tree peacefully overlooks the city from Athens's Mt. Lycabettus.

P.S. This blogger said it more than once and she'll say it again: travel is all about the connections you make, both with locals of the terrain you're visiting and with fellow travelers. And sometimes, the best trips are not necessarily those most thoroughly planned, but rather, those that allow you to go with the flow - unexpected encounters that led in turn to surprising discoveries made our dance across the Adriatic and down to the Aegean a perfect ten. 

Thanks to Liz, Caron, Kate, M, Stefanos and Ria for an unforgettable March, 2016!

...And dance we did. After picking up some advice from the quirky and eclectic Trazhabar in Belgrade.

Djordjey with Belgrade Food Tours reads my fortune from Serbian (don't say Turkish!) coffee grits at  Belgrade's "?" Cafe or kafana. (Photo Courtesy of Caron Cassady Guillo)

Athens sprawls like a map around mountains and along its ample coastline, a bitter-sweet sight for those of us who leave a little piece of our hearts in the Balkans. Until next time!

Links: Try the "Serbia on a Toothpick" Tour with Djordjey! Or get a taste of the spontaneous local dance numbers that warmed our hearts at Klimataria!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hard Choices, or Your Irresistible Idyllic Italian Vacation

Would you be my home away from home? The infinity pool outside Il Fontanaro's Villa Tartagli.
(Click photo for larger view and slideshow.)

If you're planning a trip to Italy come spring, summer or fall, it's not too early to start thinking about what kind of experience (or experiences) you'd like to have. Of course it can be difficult to choose sometimes, what with 20 to-die-for gorgeous regions, approximately 50 World Heritage Sites, a ton of famous and not-so-famous islands, and more food, art, history and culture that you knew even existed!

Let's just say if you're thinking of enjoying a few relaxing days in the countryside, you can do no wrong by choosing an agritourism weekend in Tuscany or Umbria, or a few days in a masseria Pugliese.

I have already described to audiences one of my favorite agritourism experiences at the Umbrian Le Mandrie di San Paolo, but I have to say that, last August, another Umbrian venue took its place as my favorite agritourism stay thus far: Il Fontanaro Organic Farmhouse.

Looking up at a tall tower from little Paciano's main square. This is quiet Italy at its best.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Il Fontanaro by one of my best friends in Rome and fellow blogger, Liz Knight (perhaps you've heard of her: check out Rome if you Want To!).

An easy train ride from Rome, Il Fontanaro lies close to what is perhaps the smallest village I have ever seen (and all the better for it). Perfectly preserved, Paciano looks and feels like a movie set, thus it is no disappointment to realize that - apart from the presence of about ten other intriguing souls in the main piazza - you have this town practically all to yourself. 

Okay, let's get to the digs: Il Fontanaro works similar to what is known in Italy as an albergo diffuso, or dispersed hotel with villas a few kilometers one from the other; we girls were in the private Villa Tartagli, a scenic walk (no more than ten minutes!) from town. 

The lavender here really spoke to me. Go. You will understand.

You've truly not known the pure bliss of utter silence - laced with the totally zen gurgling from the infinity pool - till you've been to the Umbrian countryside; and don't get me started on the sensorial trifecta of the buttery-smooth rolling hills, the Mediterranean surroundings of lavender and olive trees, and a sunset that dreams are made of. I wanted nothing more than to stay another week, drinking coffee and writing by the pool (as I did when I made like an early bird and let the girls sleep on our last morning in paradise).

Just know that by coming here you're taking a risk, because at the end of your stay, you will have to make the hardest choice ever presented you: go home! 

Thanks to Liz for yet another fun weekend full of memories! And if you want to do more than just gab and chill by the pool as we girls did, get in touch with Alina at Il Fontanaro to find out what else you can do on her farm, including picking fruits and veggies from her garden, cooking in Il Fontanaro's kitchen and indulge in a tasting or two.

The sunset of my dreams lowers over the hills surrounding Il Fontanaro's Villa Tartagli.

If you're interested in other experiences in Italy and beyond, scroll up and visit the Med Moves archive on your right - pastoral or urban, there's always more fun to be had!

And if you missed the link to Il Fontanaro's website, here it is one more time:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ode to Greece and the Dodecanese

A daytripper from Rhodes soaks up the south Aegean sun and complements a typical stone mosaic floor in one of the courtyards of the rambling Panormitis Monastery.

The Rhodes coastline is pretty much this beautiful everywhere, all the time.
(Tsambika Monastery. Click on photos for slideshow.)

The ruins of Our Lady of the City in Rhodes Old Town.

Earlier this year, I finally made it to a country where no self-respecting travel blog covering the Mediterranean should be a stranger (besides Italy). Give you a guess?

I never actually thought my first Grecian vacation would be on the island of Rhodes, nor did I think it would take place in the month of April. The win here lies in the fact that low expectations often beget high returns.

Needless to say, an eight-day stay in a sun-bleached house facing onto a blue velvet Aegean, zero crowds and plenty of lovely natives (including goats!) has me scheming to get back to Greece as soon - and as frequently - as possible.

A house pet on the island of Symi. (Look closely.)

I expect that you, like me, have noticed that encounters with locals while traveling can make or break your experience in their native land - indeed, unique human encounters are a top motivator for travel in the first place. For this blogger, the people factor in Greece is on par with those of Tunisia and Morocco: my favorite Mediterranean populations so far. Their warmth and hospitality lift one's spirits as much, if not more than, the beauty of their respective countries.

Light a candle on Easter Sunday. The Panormitis Monastery inhabits its very own island and is dedicated to the Archangel. Its Orthodox architecture and decor stand in beautiful contrast to the Roman Catholic environs this blogger is used to photographing.

From Maria of Maria's Taberna (near Anthony Quinn's Bay) to an elderly couple of spirited mom-and-pop shop owners in the Rhodes Old Town, to the five Syrian refugees who had been just seconds from death and happened to walk off an Hellenic Coast Guard boat and into my pathway in Symi, it all comes back down to people.

Art, architecture, nature, music and food are the traveler's means to exploring life. 

Yet ultimately, it is the human connection around those things that move us to love life.

Last night, last drink in Rhodes Port. The isle continues to beckon with its cozy atmosphere, warm people, millennial history and impossibly beautiful landscapes.

...My recs: While I would recommend giving yourself at least four days on this beautiful island, you can drive the entirety of Rhodes in about a day; plan on renting a house somewhere between Rhodes Old Town and the halfway point on the length of the isle. This permits you to see everything from Lindos to the Butterfly Forest and still be back home in time for dinner. Take a day to enjoy the Old Town together with Anthony Quinn's Bay, and another to depart Rhodes Port on a ferry to Panormitis and Symi.

Keep reading...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

In Waterworld: A Biennale, a Cannarino, a Few Film References and a Little Bit of Mystery

Can you Imagine this as your main means of transport? (I've been doing it since I was a child.)
This house gets a point for the boat and a point for having its very own bridge.

"So when I was nine, I dreamed up a terribly engaging game for me and my little cousin: it was a time when my parents had put down a beautiful blue carpet in our sunken-in living room (which, as soon as it was installed, had me pretending to be a little mermaid - I would roll around on that carpet as if I were a mermaid doing somersaults in the deep blue sea). It wasn't until one Saturday when Darian came over that I was able to put my master plan in action. Now, she and I lived in a city of canals, rightly known as 'Waterworld.'

The couches became our canal banks, while their cushions were plonked down to make a bridge over water between the foyer and the kitchen (both on higher ground, thus naturally the terra firma in this gracious little city resembling the Venice of my mind's eye). We were two lucky sisters whose parents owned and operated the "Plaza Hotel;" the world was our oyster, and our favorite pastime was solving "mysteries" - two little private-eyes always getting into mischief in a magical land where only boats or walking could get you from point A to point B."

I must say the canals are not as blue as my parents' living room carpet was in the '90s.

Funnily enough, it was not until my eighth trip to Venice that I even connected our childhood revelry to the city itself. I found myself spontaneously detailing this funny little anecdote to an acquaintance, Fiorella, over dinner in Venice's Rio Novo neighborhood.

"Carina la cosa," laughed Fiorella. I think what made my story so poignant for me in that moment was the spirit with which my little game had been invented. Yes, I (that is, my imagination) was highly influenced by movies as a child. Already we have references to a couple obvious titles, and perhaps two that are less so, i.e. Big Business for the prominence it gives to the Plaza Hotel, and the comedic film Blame it on the Bellboy. Blame it on the Bellboy was crucial as my first introduction to the city of Venice, for it is that which instilled in me the excitement and intrigue of such a mesmerizing-yet-hidden, and sprawling-yet-cozy city bobbing on its host lagoon; and it is exactly what I felt that evening.

A city beautifully bobbing.
(Click for bigger photos and slideshow.)

After dinner, Fiorella, who also happens to be a former Italian senatrice, ordered a cannarino. I didn't want to be a copy-cat, but after almost ten minutes of drooling at her elegant glass of hot water-lemon peel infusion, I had to have one myself. Not only was it pretty, with its serpent-like, spiral-cut lemon peel lining the long glass, but it served as a digestive and besides, was just nice to have on a chilly night, right before a short stroll to tuck back into our hotel.

Each of my trips to La Serenissima over the last 11 years has been marked by an occasion: a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim, a day trip to gawk at the sights of Carnavale, a weekend to mark the Festa del Redentore. Last May, my most recent travel there was arranged just to see the Biennale dell'Arte, which was totally worth it and then some. 

The perennial Belgian Pavilion in Venice's Giardini. (Does it remind you a little of the Justice Building in The Hunger Games?)

"All the World's Futures," the theme of the 2015 Biennale, focuses on all that is human. My favorite pavilions and exhibits were "humanitarian" in the sense that they focused on colonialism, alienation and exploitation (the Belgian and Korean pavilions in the Giardini, and the "NoNoseKnows" pearl exhibit in the Arsenale, respectively), as well as religion, with the sort of tongue-in-cheek Icelandic pavilion, the short-lived Mosque inside a former church in the Cannareggio neighborhood that was eventually shut down by the city's governing body. 

So I had my day at my first Biennale dell'Arte, and I would gladly go back to see it all again. The same evening, I wandered the first Jewish Ghetto in world history, and enjoyed another delicious meal in the chilly outdoors, not far from a canal that was beginning to flood onto the city sidewalks. So much so that I was forced to choose between submerging my Chloe ballet flats in a deep and vast, non-hoppable puddle, or finding an alternate route back to the hotel. (I chose the latter.)

The commodification of human labor at Mika Rottenberg's "NoNoseKnows," one of hundreds upon hundreds of exhibits inside the Arsenale.

But this is all part of the fun: I felt like a child that weekend, and particularly on Saturday night, having a Venetian aperitivo of cicchetti with the cool kids of Cannareggio, getting lost in the calle and feeling like there truly is some (non-threatening) mystery hiding just around the corner and waiting to be solved, catching sight of a pudgy little boy scarfing down the goods in his father's kosher bakery while his family supped in the restaurant across the street, and being swept along in Venice's stream of changing moods and occasions as if it were my playground. 

Every time I visit, I fall ever more in love with her. But this time in particular, I felt closer to both her and the child first enamored of her by way of a goofy murder-mystery. That was no doubt described on the VHS cover as a "romping good time!"

The South Korean Pavilion. This is supposed to be all of us in the future: cold and alienated. (She's kind of got a Mila Jovovich from The 5th Element attitude going on here.)

I  don't want to spoil it for you if you plan on going, but to see inside the Belgian, Icelandic and Japanese pavilions - and plenty more photos from Waterworld - visit my Instagram feed, mediterranean_moves.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mediterranean Heirlooms in America: The Mabee Gerrer Museum of Art

Detail of a c. 14th Century Altarpiece, one of several at the Mabee Gerrer Museum of Art.
Typical of the Florentine style. Tempera and Gold on Panel, attributed to Spinello Arentino.

Esteban Murillo's 17th Century Madonna in Oil on Canvas.

Raphael's Connestable Madonna. 
Extremely small tempera and oil on wooden panel, the original of which lies in the Hermitage.

(Like Gregory Gerrer, Raphael was commissioned to create art for the Pope of his time.)

While one might not presume that they could find interesting, original works of art from all around the world - including prestigious Renaissance paintings and ancient Egyptian finds - in a small town just outside of Oklahoma City, that is exactly what lies at the Mabee Gerrer Museum of Art at St. Gregory's University, in none other than Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Perhaps it has something to do with the wealth of the Catholic Church - it does - nonetheless it has much more to do with the fact that Gregory Gerrer was a promising young artist who, having immigrated to America from France, eventually found himself at the Benedictine monastery that would later become St. Gregory's. 

Highly-intriguing Canopic Jars from Egypt's Middle Kingdom. Oft depicted the Four Sons of Horus and used to guard organs removed from mummies.

To make a long story short, Gerrer ended up meeting an abbot who was so taken by the young monk's talent that he sent him back to Europe, to Rome exactly, so that he could study painting and travel for a temporary period of time... (Now, myself being a native Oklahoman who has lived in Rome for six years, I cannot deny that I found this little fact terribly exciting when it was revealed to me just after I paid for my museum ticket last November.)

As with many a museum collection, this one began with the personal collection of its founder, who gathered pieces from one journey to another while traveling abroad. Having brought them back with him to the great State of Oklahoma after each trip, Father Gerrer founded the museum - more recently housed in this bordeaux-walled little gem of a museum - in 1919, and it has been accumulating treasures ever since.

Greek terra-cotta deity figurines from 400 B.C. Found in the Boeotia Region, in the famous cemetery of Tanagra.

While I know that the museum, as lovely and fascinating as it may be, will not in itself inspire most travelers to put Oklahoma on their destination list anytime in the near future, be aware that National Geographic Traveler has placed the capital city on its own list for 2015. However, if you do happen to be just one state away, passing through on the old Route 66 or even in town on business, seeing a Thunder game or a regatta on the Oklahoma River, Shawnee is a quick, 45-minute drive from Oklahoma City.

Winged Lion, symbol of St. Mark, Patron Saint of Venice. Shield accompanying a suit of armor constructed by Vincenzo Zenon in 1446. Suit bears as part of its inscription Venezin, which most would assume is Veneto (regional) dialect for Venetian. (Also attests that Zenon built the armor in San Silvestro, which most likely means the Parish of San Silvestro.)

Of course, if you are an art scholar, Mabee-Gerrer most likely is already on your radar, and it is for good reason that you should make the effort to see it in your lifetime. The wealth of this collection is astounding, having surprised me with several Byzantine-style altarpieces, canvases by Guido Reni and Veronese, a Raphael and an Esteban Murillo, among plenty of others.

And if you are a native Oklahoman still in-state, you have no reason not to go. Outside of Mother Nature herself, it is a reflective escape from the quotidian and mundane. The Mabee-Gerrer Museum is quiet's abode; duck in for just a bit to revel in this oasis of stillness, ideally now, when the cold and wind all but come sweeping down the plain.

Complete view of the Arentino Altarpiece. The majority of the works in the Mabee-Gerrer collection are essentially votive creations - standing watch over and protecting those they served (Egyptians, Greeks and Italians alike). Together and individually, they evoke the visitor's awe and reverence for the centuries and millennia of culture, history and memories they keep.

Further Links

The Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art