Weekend in Milan – not just the Expo

Today I will be flying to Europe from Sydney to see some good friends and family and simply to make the most of the European summer, which we all love, don’t we?!

First stop of my exciting trip will be Milan, city that I adore – unlike a lot of Italians, for some reasons – and city that gave me so much back in the 4 years I spent there. What I am sharing with you now is MY Milan’s weekend guide that I put together for first timers in the Italian fashion capital.

I can guarantee you that all the places I have listed below are still there, buzzy and active as usual! But I might add some more hidden gems after my visit, who knows… I might discover some new corners of town myself, and share them with you!

These activities will keep you so busy that you won’t have time to go to the Expo. In fact, there is so much more to Milan than the Expo these days.

THE EXPLORING BIT

Not sure what you are after, if more food, more shopping, more cultural events… but I will give you a mix of mi picks here.

Milan gives its best during spring (unfortunately it also gives you a lot of mosquitoes, but you can easily do something about it!), so walking is the best way to get around. I’d recommend you to start walking from Navigli (the famous canal district) to the city center and get pleasantly lost along the tiny streets and the nice canals. On the way to the Duomo (the main cathedral) you will pass through Corso di Porta Ticinese, which is a lovely street full of cafes, restaurants, bars and classy vintage shops.

At the end of Corso di Porta Ticinese just cross the road and you will hit the Colonne di San Lorenzo (Saint Laurence Columns), very characteristic as well, where young crowds of people hang out at night playing guitar, chatting, or drinking a beer and eating a bite on the go. Turn right after the columns and you are in Via Torino – again, more shopping, ice-cream places and cafes – which will lead you right in front of the Duomo. Getting in the Duomo is free, but what you can also do is walking to the top, where the little Saint Mary statue is, for a stunning view over the whole Milan, with the Dolomites all around. Milanese people call it ‘La Madunina’, and it’s the symbol of their city.

Once in the Duomo square you will be in the heart of Milan, and I simply suggest you to go with the flow and discover what the tiny streets around can offer. Which is a lot and very surprising, I find.

Here is some suggestions of where I’d go from the Duomo square:

Walking through the famous – and only recently restored – Vittorio Emanuele Gallery. At the end of it you will find the popular La Scala Theatre.

Take Corso Vittorio Emanuele – more shopping and celebrity spotting – and then turn left in Piazza San Babila (San Babila Square): you will be in Via Montenapoleone, the Chelsea of Milan. Not sure you will be able to afford anything there, but it is worth a visit. It is Milan fashion at his top. A classy icon.

Just behind the Gallery, hidden in a Via Santa Ranegonda, not far from The Scala, you’ll find the best ‘panzerotti’ place in the whole Milan: Luini is a bakery that has become an institution for all the locals. I warn you: queues here can be very long, but it will all be worth it for your fried or oven (my favourite!) panzerotto! Oh wait, what is a panzerotto? a mini calzone, in a nutshell.

Take via Dante – packed with elegant cafes – and you will have the Castle right in front of you. It’s called Castello Sforzesco – the Sforza family which once reigned in Milan lived in there – and it is situated in the most beautiful park of downtown Milan, Parco Sempione. Here is what you will find once inside the park:

  • you can visit the castle itself and walk through the part to the opposite side to see the Arco della Pace (Peace Arch): our own Arc de Triomphe;

  • the Modern Art Museum (called La Triennale di Milano) which never lets you down: great exhibitions, quirky cafe’, beautiful structure and outdoor space

The main museum is right in the Duomo Square, and it’s called Palazzo Reale (The Royal Palace). They always have great quality exhibitions on.

Brera_Milan_Italy_CuriousAbout

Absolutely go to Brera!!!! It’s one of the oldest – and wealthiest – parts of town and you can get there either from the end of Via Montenapoleone or from the Castle. The closest tube station is Lanza or Moscova. The Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Picture Gallery) is here, and it’s famous all over the world for its art school and its art collections. The streets you will have to look up on Google Map are a few, but Brera is so small that I am sure you will walk through most of them without the help of technology:

  • Via Palermo
  • Corso Garibaldi
  • Via Brera
  • Via dei Fiori Oscuri
  • Via dei Fiori Chiari
  • Via Solferino

10 Corso Como, Milan

Another part of town you will HAVE TO go to is Corso Como, again another icon of the fashionable side of Milan. The famous shop 10 Corso Como is where stylists from all over the world come to find inspiration. They also have a cafe area (sit back and enjoy a tea/coffee/wine in their garden), an exhibition area upstairs and an hotel with 3 rooms only, each with a different style.

Have a look at the website in the hyperlink, this is how the whole space is described:
‘Hidden in the heart of 10 Corso Como quiet courtyard behind
a discreet façade of gates and gardens, the garden café is surrounded by
a conservatory of lush perennial plants and seasonal flowers.
When not shopping or visiting 10 Corso Como various showcases,
one can stop to eat in the café restaurant and bar.
Designed to flow between the inside and the seasonal garden outside,
the café offers another aesthetic altogether.’
The best ways to get to Corso Como are walking from Brera (a beautiful short walk through Corso Garibaldi) or via tube (get off at Garibaldi FS).

THE FOOD AND DRINKS BIT

Milan is packed with some of the best restaurants and cocktail bars in Italy, which means you will rarely get disappointed by its food scene. I don’t have specific recommendations for food, but if all you have is a weekend, then head to Brera and Navigli for a treat, and for a great vibe and cool atmosphere. Avoid the Duomo area which tends to attract more tourists and be more expensive.

IN NAVIGLI:

Trattoria Toscana, Navigli, Milan

  •  Trattoria Toscana in Navigli (in Corso di Porta Ticinese): a must for the cool guys in town. Head there for the aperitivo time to capture the cool essence of Milan-by-night in the back courtyard.

  • Traditional pizzeria – which is also restaurant – right in the heart of the canals: La Magolfa. I always go there with my friends, it’s cheap, nothing fancy, amazing real Italian food and super authentic atmosphere (make sure you end your dinner with one of their amaros!).

  • On the main canal, this is one of the best places for the ‘Gnocco Fritto’, the typical Italian fried dumplings (mmmhhh…. delicious!!!): Osteria dello Gnocco Fritto.

IN BRERA:

Da Claudio Fishmonger and Restaurant, Milan

  • Princi: the best slices of pizzas in Italy! It’s not a place for dinner, as in it’s not a restaurant but this is a concept that Italians love: go for some pizza bites – and a cheeky beer – before proper dinner. There are a few around town, but the first – and most iconic ones – are the one in Brera (in Largo La Foppa, right in front of Moscova tube station, on the green line) and the one next to Corso Como (Piazza XXV Aprile, 5). Princi has also opened in Soho – London – now and and it’s always packed!

  • Da Claudio Fishmonger: this place is a normal fishmonger during the day, but then turns into a fashionable and classy aperitivo bar every evening! Go there for some fresh fish and a glass of prosecco before dinner (and for some amazing people watching and celebrity spotting…. and a lot of chatting over a drink of course!!!).

  • Osteria dei Poeti in 40 Corso Garibaldi. Hidden gem for a super authentic and elegant dinner option.

  • Aperitivo in Piazzale La Foppa (next to Princi and to the Moscova tube station): go to Radetzky for more people watching, good quality aperitivo and a glass of wine or a cocktail outside in the little square.


THE PRACTICAL BIT

FROM THE AIRPORT:
  • from MALPENSA: take the Malpensa Express, which is a train within the airport that will take you to Milano Cadorna. From there you can either get a taxi to your destination or jump on the tube.

  • from LINATE the best way is to get a taxi. If you want to spend a bit less you can get the shuttle bus service from Linate to Central Station and from there either the taxi or the tube to reach your final destination.

  • from ORIO AL SERIO: there is only one way, unfortunately and it does take ages… the shuttle bus service to Central…

THE TUBE:

Milan is not like London. There are only 3 tube lines and they take you pretty much everywhere in town. Or you can walk or cycle, which is muuuch better! Milan is small and all the main attractions are concentrated in a relatively small area. It is also a flat city, which makes it perfect for cycling around.

MetroMilan_CuriousAboutBlog

Milan, tube map

WHERE TO STAY:

Stay in one of these following areas so that you can easily walk or cycle everywhere within minutes. Regardless the area you pick, Aribnb is the way to go! You will then get to explore the city like a local and you will make the most of the beautiful Milanese people’s interior design (and trust me… they do know one thing or two about design there!).

Typical Courtyard in Navigli, Milan

  • Airbnb in Navigli (closest tubes: Romolo, S. Agostino and Porta Genova) where I am staying this weekend. This charming and well designed flat is situated in a casa di corte (courtyard house) which is typical of this area of Milan. If you are an Airbnb new user get a voucher on your first booking, by using this link.

  • Isola (closest tubes: Porta Garibaldi and Zara)

  • Brera (closest tubes: Lanza, Moscova, Porta Garibaldi)

  • Porta Romana (closest tubes: Crocetta and Porta Romana)

So I did well and kept my promise: no mention of the Expo in this blog post. We will all be too busy exploring the real Milan instead… the one that you only find in its streets, cafes and squares.

Now, let Milan entertain you!

Branden Harvey: the photographer who is using social media for good

This is Branden Harvey.

Branden Harvey is pretty much a modern-day superman. He is young (’20-something’ he claims). And he is armed only with his camera and the words in his head.

He goes out there to tell stories and shoot photos for brands, dreamers and world changers.

Forget about pictures of beautiful cakes, perfect raw recipes, and superficial fashion shots on your Instagram feed. Here we are talking about real people, about the hope in African women’s eyes, about mothers and children united to change the world.

Branden works with nonprofit organisations that pay him to travel to Africa (mainly) and to amplify their work using his social network. This way, Branden is left free to tell the story in his own way (and images), with his own words, which makes this approach much more powerful than normal PR.

One of his latest projects is with These Numbers Have Faces, a nonprofit organisation that takes the best and brightest students from Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa and helps put them through school.

But the young Oregon-based story teller also writes about other topics: places, love, relationships, portraits… all equally inspiring projects. Read them about them here.

He has even started an official hashtag on Instagram that is very popular among users, those being professional photographers or not (just like me and you): #storyportrait. So far over 31,000 photos have been submitted to the #storyportrait tag, which Branden created to encourage people to ‘share the stories of the people in your life. Authentically. Genuinely. Lovingly.’

Mashable has recently defined him ‘The Instagrammer who’s on a mission to change the world, one picture at a time’, which is the article that inspired me to write this blog post. Plus, being myself an absolute lover of Africa and its people, I really could not resist.

From today, my Instagram feed has a new look. Thank you for the inspiration, Branden.


BRANDEN HARVEY ON SOCIAL:

Twitter @BrandenHarvey

Instagram brandenharvey: join me and other 101k followers!

Snapchat ‘brandenharvey’: Branden creates daily Snapchat stories that are seen by thousands of people all over the world. He’s created Snapchat stories in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Dubai and the latest one from the White House.

Facebook Branden Harvey

My selection of the best free travel apps

This post could be the longest one on my blog, but I will keep it nice and short and just share with you my favourite travel apps that I actually use on a weekly basis – which is pretty much how often I travel. For some of them, I also share some vouchers that you can use straight away to get a discount on your first booking!

Those are the basics you should absolutely have on your phone/tablet if you – like me – live constantly on the road… or if you like giving a real shape to your day-dreaming! Plus, they are free.

WHY TRAVEL APPS?

Because they will all equally inspire you to escape, to leave your comfort zone and book those plane tickets or a place to stay at your next destination.


UBER

Uber_App_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: Although you need a Wifi connection to use this service, Uber is a great way to navigate a country that is not known for trustworthy transportation options. Check out the cities that the app is available here and see if you can use it for your upcoming vacation. Editor tip- a lot of international airports now feature free Wifi, so this could be a great way to secure a ride from the airport, without having to wait in a long line or risk being hustled upon arrival.

ELEVATOR PITCH: ‘Your ride, on demand.’

VOUCHER: download the app here and use this promo code to get a discount on your first ride: zocu9.


HOTEL QUICKLY

HotelQuickly_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: This app will help you book a last-minute hotel in case you missed a flight, stayed out too late, or want a staycation in your own city. At discounted rates! I use it a lot when I need a place to stay on the same day or for the following night. Their selection of luxurious hotels – as well some 3 stars hotels – is great. I recently stayed at the Tryp Hotel in Brisbane, which was super quirky and located in a very vibrant part of town, with the most amazing roof top bar! Bonus.

ELEVATOR PITCH: ‘The best 3 to 5 star hotels, available on average 28% cheaper!’

VOUCHER: download the free app here and get a $30 voucher that you can use straight away at your first booking using the code PPICC.


AIRBNB

Airbnb_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: Airbnb is by far my favourite way of travelling and experience local cultures. If you haven’t Airbnbed before, I can guarantee that once you start, you will be hooked! They were the first one to play a role in the sharing economy, where people just open up their properties (the entire place or just a room) to perfect strangers. It is cool. And much more personal than a dry hotel. You will get to know what the local area really offers, where the locals go, and the properties on the site are stunning! Worth a try, in any country you live/travel in.

ELEVATOR PITCH: ‘Belong Anywhere’

VOUCHER: create an account for free and use this link to get AU$31 voucher on your first Airbnb booking.


WOTIF

Wotif_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: Wotif will be one of your favourite apps if you are a frequent traveller. It is easy to use, it makes easy to compare the prices of the hotel deals. And after booking, you can view past, current and future confirmations as well as present your booking confirmation from your iPhone on check-in. You can even use the ‘near me’ or near a landmark option if you want to stay near a specific attraction. Little gem.

ELEVATOR PITCH: ‘We believe that travel changes lives, and that exploring the world should be simple and accessible to everyone’


TROVER

Trover_App_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: Dubbed “the baby of Instagram and Trip Advisor”, this app encourages users to upload photos and then submit recommendations for those spots. That being said, as with any crowd sourced application or service, the information is not necessarily 100% accurate. So before quoting Trover facts, check the old fashioned guidebook.

ELEVATOR PITCH: ‘Join fellow travellers and share your stories’


SKYSCANNER

Skyscanner_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: A super easy-to-use flight-booking app on all your devices. Skyscanner does everything you’d ever need it to: aggregating fares from airlines all in one place and giving you the best deal. Skyscanner helps you find the best flights based on your budget and schedule by scanning millions of flights from more than 500 airlines around the world and comparing their prices. If all you are looking for is a bit of inspiration, then my favourite search is: FROM any destination TO EVERYWHERE to see the cheapest options! No jokes, this option really does exist in the drop down menu. Pure genius.


INSTAGRAM

Instagram_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: This popular social media platform just surpassed the 300 million user mark, which means there are a lot of jealous eyeballs to gaze at the stunning photos of your travels (and food, of course!). I also use this app as a source of inspiration, as a lot of travel bloggers and tourism brands showcase their adventures on Instagram. Watch this space for my list of best travel Instagrammers to follow!

ELEVATOR PITCH: ‘A fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures’


XE CURRENCY

XEcurrency_CuriousAbout

SIMPLY PUT: XE Currency helps you track exchange rates so that you’re aware of how much money you’re shelling out for all your travel expenses. This app covers virtually every currency in the world and lets you monitor exchange rates for up to 10 currencies, which should be more than enough for any moment during your trip. XE Currency keeps track of all currencies you monitor so that you still get updated exchange rates for these currencies even when you’re offline.

My Sydney – how much can you fit in Holt Street?

Holt Street is the lovely street I live (and work) in.

It’s a tiny one, in the heart of Surry Hills – the Farringdon of Sydney, I like to think –  and it is packed with great cafes, amazing restaurants and a wine bar. If you fancy a valid alternative to busy Crown Street, then head up to little Holt.

You will find an array of buzzy places and a great selection of cuisines and drinks that will not disappoint you. And you will want to come back. Again and again.

Welcome to my Holt Street:

Vini – Italian restaurant

ViniRestaurant_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

Vini restaurant, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Tiny, simple and classy, Vini has captured the essence of Sydney’s new found love affair with trattorias, enotecas and osterias. And it makes me feel like I am back in Milan again!

THE CURIOSITY: Tuesday at Vini is regional night. Chef Stephen creates a four course set menu of typical, classic, seasonal and sometimes unusual foods from a different region of Italy. Four courses $55. Wines are sourced from the region to accompany the food.


121BC – Italian wine bar

121BC_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

121BC, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Imagine a room with delicate lighting and just a long wooden table. This is 121BC. This hyper tiny but super elegant wine bar is my local favourite for a superb glass of wine with friend before dinner. It’s perfect for my beloved aperitivo time! Once again, I am brought back to classy Milan! 121BC only seats 25 people on its long communal table and it does not accept bookings. It serves small truly traditional and delicious dishes and it also features an ‘enoteca’, with a rich selection of wines for you to buy and enjoy elsewhere.

THE CURIOSITY – 121BC is from the same owner of two other Italian favourites: Vini and Berta, both in Surry Hills as well. And they also recently opened a new 121BC wine bar in Hong Kong, check their website here.


Muum Maam – Thai restaurant

MuumMaam_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

Muum Maam, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

The ambience of this Thai restaurant is very ‘Surry Hills’ style with long communal wooden tables, brightly painted walls, and exposed light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. All your Thai favourites are on the menu, as well as a selection of house specialities such as five crab and prawn rice net spring roll and san jan pad Thai noodles. Great services and vibrant atmosphere too. By day, the street style Tuk Shop serves quick and delicious meals from the cart. By night, Muum Maam serves classic Thai cuisine in a relaxed, cool environment.

THE CURIOSITY: Named after the Thai slang for ‘little glutton’.


Di Bella cafe

DiBellaCafe_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

Di Bella cafe, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

This Sicilian owned cafe is more than just a coffee place. It’s a roasting warehouse which serves generous breakfasts and delicious lunches. Only open for breakfast and lunch, all the ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. And – most importantly – they come with a hint of Mediterranean flavour, thanks to the truly Southern Italian chef. For lunch try one of their risottos or pasta dishes (orecchiette is my favourite pasta there), and for breakfast try their banana bread and ricotta cakes.

THE CURIOSITY: this modern vibrant cafe serves aromatic coffees from their own hand selected blended beans; roasting them right on the premises. You cannot miss the big roasting machine, which prominently sits in the centre of the cafe,


Citta

Citta_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

Citta, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

A tiny hole in Holt Street, literally four tables inside, three more on the sidewalk. Città doesn’t have a menu, just a glass-fronted refrigerator full of food. Choose something from the fridge, and the guys will cook it for you – toasted sandwiches, spaghetti, ravioli, pasta and meatballs, anything. This super tiny cafe’ is pumping Mon-Fri and the buzz is great. With all the creative and media agencies in the area and the Asos and News Corp office in the same street, it ‘s the favourite of a lot of employees.

THE CURIOSITY: The barista knows most people’s names and will welcome you with a G’day!


Movida – Spanish tapas

Movida Surry Hills Sydney

Movida, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Movida is the perfect place where you want to go early (I live next door and it is always – always – busy!) and stay long. For someone who travelled extensively around Spain like me, the tapas are very authentic and won’t disappoint your picky palate. Service is excellent, very buzzy and plenty of good vibes. Match your tapas with some Spanish wine and don’t think about your wallet: you will have a good time!

THE CURIOSITY: This is the fourth addition to the Movida family around Australia: there’s Movida in Melbourne, Movida Next Door, Movida Aqui, Movida at the Airport and they all serve great quality Spanish tapas.


… THE LATEST NEW ENTRIES ON HOLT!

Cafe’ e cucina – Napoli style cafe 

Cafe&Cucina_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

Cafe’ & Cucina, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

This cafe has only been open for a matter of weeks right in front of my office – News Corp – and my colleagues are already in love with its Napoli-style cakes, lasagne, sandwiches and coffee. I go there for their fresh cold pressed juices and their cannelloni. Top notch!

THE CURIOSITY: this cafe’ has been selected as one of the 10 best Sydney lunches for $10 or less. “Cafe’ & Cucina” means both “Coffee & Kitchen” and “Coffee & Cuisine” in English, but I agree with the owner that it does sound much more poetic in my language, Italian!


Mama’s Buoi – Vietnamese restaurant

MamasBuoi_HoltStreet_CuriousAbout_Sydney

Mama’s Buoi, Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Mama’s Buoi seeks to emulate the flavour, soul and communal spirit of eating in Vietnam. The restaurant’s crew encourages guests to ‘eat the food like a family’. Mama’s Buoi’s specials are quirky and can get messy and you are more than welcome to make use of your fingers. The Mama’s Buoi philosophy is reflected in the warm and welcoming interior and cosy courtyard at the back. A big graphic reads “ME KHONG” on the wall, and family photos adorn the place and line the menus. Greenery, including herbs used to cook by the chef, thrive on windowsills.

THE CURIOSITY: Sydney’s head chef, Tiw Rakarin uses fresh produce daily. With no cool room, raw ingredients are broken down every morning. Long, slow cooking – six to seven hours each day – provides the pho’s flavour without needing additives.


OK, BUT WHERE IS HOLT STREET?

Buon appetito!

BluesFest 2015 – Byron Bay, Australia

ByronBay_BluesFest2015_curiousabout

BluesFest 2015, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

If you are a blues and roots fan – and if you live in Australia – then you know that BluesFest in Byron Bay is the place to be at Easter. Which is exactly where I was this year.

And it was epic. And big. And diverse. And not that wet after all, if you are used to music festivals in the UK.

Director Peter Noble said: “It seems like we just had our second-biggest festival ever”. And I am so happy to have been part of such an exciting live event with the most amazing line-up. Right there, for my senses to enjoy.

Waking up in Byron Bay every day made it even more special. But I will tell you more about what a special place that is in another post, coming soon. Let’s talk music now.


THE BLUESFEST 2015 IN NUMBERS

  • this was the 26th edition
  • 5 days worth of live music
  • 89 bands
  • 908 artists + their tour party members
  • 105,000+ revellers

BUT WHAT MAKES THE BLUESFEST SO SUCCESSFUL? (aka why you should absolutely go next year)

Despite headliners Lenny Kravitz, The Black Keys and Ben Howard pulling out of this year’s Bluesfest, crowds (and myself!!) still braved the rainy conditions and got into the spirit of the festival. At anyone’s eyes, it was a successful event, and with such a diverse line-up, it’s not hard to see what brought me – as well as so many other people – through the gates this year.

There is something that BluesFest does very well, I find: it does put together in one place a varied and exciting mix of musicians that you will hardly find anywhere else in the world. And it offers up the prospect of musical discovery, so valued by curious ears like mine. The result is a real music-loving crowd and their respect for the artists, young and old ones.


MY HIGHLIGHTS

PAOLO NUTINI

Paolo Nutini’s soulful set was a real treat, his salty smooth vocals and epic range received much devotion from the crowd. His new album ‘Caustic Love’ is clearly the work of a maturing singer-songwriter. And it’s an amazing piece of work. Caustic Love has received rare reviews and has gained him a fixture in the Top 20 of the BBC ALBUM CHARTS since its release 25 weeks ago. Unmissable.


BAND OF SKULLS

The Southampton rock trio’s third album ‘Himalayan’ has a confidence that reflects a band who have honed and refined their own sound through relentless touring and playing to audiences of artists like Muse and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Deliciously evocative.


BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS

Ben Harper, a BluesFest institution (this festival launched his career, back in the late ’90s), reunited with The Innocent Criminals after seven years. They received quite negative reviews accusing them of a lack of excitement. True, Ben was not really engaging with the crowd this time. But he was there to play his amazing music, and he gave us the old songs we were all waiting for. And ‘With My Own Two Hands’ was one of those we all sang along. He played for 2.15 hours no stop – no stop – without ever drinking a glass of water – and it was hot, and it was humid. I was there in the first row and I saw a very concentrated musician, who was keen to play as many songs as possible. For the 5th time in a row, I loved him and he didn’t let me down. Respect.


GARY CLARK JR.

The festival’s standout act. If one act captured the essence of this year’s BluesFest, it was Clark Jr. His energy and stage presence saw him perform less of a musical set and more a communal ritual channeling the spirits of greats like Stevie Ray and Jimi Hendrix. Talent.


KEZIAH JONES

Keziah was born among the ghettos and skyscrapers of bustling Lagos, Nigeria, and ended up busking in the London tube – I can’t believe I missed his talent when I was living in London! His performance was a fusion of raw Blues and Punk Funk attitude crossed with yoruba rhythms. He also has his own YouTube channel where he has a whole series of ‘Guitar Lessons’… in case you want to learn his cords from him directly! A slice of pure Africa.


RODRIGO Y GABRIELA

One of those rare acts who left me open-mouthed in awe, as I was witnessing live two of the most talented guitarists on the planet. Playing together for over fifteen years, Rodrigo Sanches and Gabriela Quintero brought on stage their unique instrumental blend of Rumba Flamenca including elements of Rock, Metal, Jazz and World music. Timeless music.


HOZIER

Irish musician Hozier was an utter delight, with his entrance met with wild applause from the Crossroads tent. His ht single ‘Take me to Church’ was a clear favourite, but we truly loved every song. I found amazing his confidence on stage: hard to believe he is only 24. One to watch.


WHERE IS IT?

Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

Very efficient shuttle buses will take you there from Byron Bay, in just 20 minutes.


2016 DATES

From Thursday 24th of March to Monday 28th of March

And you can already get your tickets! Click here.

The excitement continues…

The photographer who went to Antarctica

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND & ANTARCTICA

Southern Exposure – Exhibition from Anthony Ponzo

The Art Month is on in Sydney, like every March. And it’s transforming hidden alleyways into vibrant buzzing corners of town full of art and music… and lots of cool people enjoying their time outside of course. The vibe and the music in the air remind me a bit of the Spanish fiestas, in the barrios of Barcelona during summer… or maybe it’s just me being a bit home sick.

The Art Month was in Chippendale last week, an alternative and quirky Sydney borough next door from the already vibrant Surry Hills, where I live. As I was wondering around the streets, I came across the X88, a tiny gallery where an Australian photographer was offering glasses of wines to curious eyes and showcasing his last collection of mesmerising photos from his last trip.

The gallery was so packed that 1. he ran out of wine pretty quickly and 2. it was impossible to talk.

So I went back a couple of days later, on a lazy Saturday morning, after my brunch to what has already become my Chippendale favourite, Cafe Giulia, and asked him a few questions about his exhibition.

I am glad I asked.

The photographer is Anthony Ponzo, a wedding photographer from Australia with Irish and Italian (Sicilian precisely, very very close to the Southern Italian region where I am from. Click!) background. An interesting mix.

The exhibition – that he named ‘Southern Exposure’ – documents the 3 weeks that Anthony spent on an ice-hardened ship travelling to Antarctica from Ushuaia in South America, last November. He told me he worked from sunrise to sunset every day to capture the unique wildlife of and dramatic landscapes of remote South Georgia island. In the freezing cold.

What I loved about his exhibition was the story telling coming with each shot. The photos were amazing of course, but the small story that came with each of them is what I found truly captivating. And what made me go back.

Here is a taste of his photos – now on sales – which beautifully showcase the varied colours and surreal landscapes of Antarctica and South Georgia Island:

But you will have to head to Anthony’s website or to Chippendale if you are curious to see more. ‘Southern Exposure’ will run at the X88 gallery till March the 26th.

One of the pictures Anthony seemed most proud of is the one where he managed to see the sun setting late at night, after hours freezing outside and after the whole photographing. It was completely unexpected.

I asked him: “how many pictures did you have to take to get the perfect shot?”

“Around 200 hundreds” he said.

But only this one made it to the final editing and is now part of the exhibition:

Southern Exposure – Exhibition from Anthony Ponzo

Worth the wait in the cold, don’t you think?


LINKS:

Sydney Art Month:

X88 website

Anthony Ponzo website – info@antarctic.photos

‘Southern Exposure’ website and photo gallery


EXHIBITION DETAILS

‘Southern Exposure’ at X88 – from March 19th till March 26th 2015

Australia short breaks: Canberra.

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Lake Ginninderra in trendy Belconnen, right in the heart of Canberra, Australia

Last weekend I drove south of Sydney for just over a couple of hours and went to explore Canberra for the weekend.

‘Why Canberra??’ – people asked me – ‘instead of all these beautiful beaches surrounding Sydney?’

Because of my love for art… and secretly because I have a passion for doing the opposite of what others do or expect me to do!

So, this time James Turrell’s light exhibition was the reason why I left Sydney, Bondi and its beaches.

Tickets got sold out in no time (I had booked mine last year), all the way till June, when the exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia ends. It’s his first time here in Australia and I could not possibly miss it.

And of course he didn’t let me down. The experience of walking in the empty spaces that he created and filled with – at times very bright – light was well worth the drive on Fri after work to the Australian capital city.

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‘Within Without’, James Turrell, NGA 2010

A blog post dedicated to James Turrell and his genius vision will follow shortly – he certainly deserves a blog post just for him and his work!


7 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CANBERRA

James Turrell wasn’t the only amazing thing that I found once in Canberra. I was overwhelmed by lots of other things, and you should go and get a taste of them too – if you haven’t done it already. So, here is what I have learned:

  1. one weekend is not enough.

  1. but if all you have is a weekend, visit Belconnen (Belco for the locals). It’s an up and coming area of town, very central, with a great choice of trendy restaurants and cafes, but yet super green. My highlights were the 7 km walk around Lake Ginninderra and brunch and its cafes. Belco is here:

  1. be in the action: Kendall Street is a lovely tiny pedestrian-only street packed with some of the best bars and restaurants. In the Civic, just off Edinburgh Avenue.

  1. the museums will blow your mind, also if you are used to the European standards. I particularly appreciated the quality of the collections exposed, the super knowledgeable guides at the War Memorial Museum who told me EVERYTHING about Gallipoli and the First World War (surprisingly free), the architecture and the location of the buildings themselves.

  1. brunch in Canberra is a thing. And it’s cool.

  1. Canberra has an exellent wine region too! On the way back to Sydney go for some wine tasting on the Poacher Way: great wine – without the crazy prices of the more popular Hunter Valley – and a nice ride expect you.

  1. you will need a car. The city has only been build 100 years ago and is spread over a large area of natural reserves, lakes and hills. A paradise of trees and green all around you basically.


FOOD & DRINKS

  • Brunch in Belconnen at Chatterbox: a little all-yellow corner cafe open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, where portions are huge and ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. Prices are totally reasonable too, plus service is really friendly.

ChatterBox Cafe_Belconnen_Canberra_Australia_CuriousAbout

Chatterbox Cafe, in Belconnen, Canberra, ACT, Australia

  • Brunch in Belconnen with lake view at one of the locals favourites Ha Ha Bar: right before (or after) your run walk around the lake, this is the perfect spot on the water, in the shadow of the trees. Very interesting menu, great selection of smoothies and fresh pressed juices with some delicious brunch options.

  • Tapas and drinks at Parlour Wine Room: great atmosphere in this trendy and classy bar. Their tapas reminded me of Movida – my usual tapas place in Sydney -. This is one of the gems in that tiny Kendall Street I just told you about. If I ever move to Canberra I will look for a flat there. Deal.

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Parlour Wine Room Tapas Bar in Kendall Street, Canberra, Australia

  • Some fancy cocktails at Lucky’s: this was the perfect choice for some creative and unusual cocktails before heading to the tapas bar. Again, very friendly service – I found that everywhere in Canberra to be honest.

  • Dinner at A. Baker: right behind the Parlour Wine Room, this restaurant is also an amazing bakery with a very fun and relaxed atmosphere, perfect for a Sat night dinner with friends.


WHERE TO STAY

  • Camping: the Cotter Campground is just a 15 minutes drive from town, well equipped, quiet and it’s located right on the Cotter River.

  • Hotel: the Hotel Hotel – no, it’s not a typo! –  is the latest in terms of design and luxury. A collaboration between designers, artists, artisans and fantasists, this hotel is also super central – in Edinburgh Avenue – where most of the above cool and elegant restaurants and cocktail bars are. Not a cheap option (starting from $266 per room per night), but what a stylish experience that is!

  • Airbnb: always an easy choice if you don’t want to spend a fortune, but still want to be comfortable and close to the action. Use this link to get a voucher on your first booking, if you are a new user.


BLOGS TO FOLLOW – FROM PEOPLE WHO TRULY LOVE CANBERRA

These bloggers told me everything I had to know when I arrived in Canberra (as usual, totally unprepared and ready for this new place to surprise me). Check them out if – just like me – all you are after is getting tips from locals who really know the city inside out.

My Sydney – a cocktail bar or a butcher in Newtown?

Setting the scene:

it’s Thu evening, and my friend takes me to a live gig at the super well known music venue in Newtown – the Enmore Theatre – one of those of venues were it’s only you and a few other people (ok, a few hundred… but still, it’s intimate enough!) and you can get seriously close to the stage without getting pushed by a crazy crowd.

The Belle and Sebastian’s gig – a brilliantly smart band from Glasgow, been around for over 20 years, love them! – doesn’t start before 9.00pm.

Listen to this tune to get in the right mood – my absolute favourite from their latest album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance‘, released this Jan:

I am obviously hungry and I cannot wait till the end of the concert. So we decide to go for dinner and drinks somewhere. We are luckily in the right place: Newtown is full of amazing options!

But no, we decide to go and try out this “cocktail bar” that my friend had read about somewhere… we had the address, Google Map and plenty of time. Easy…. right??!

Unless the cocktail bar at the given address looked more like a butcher shop instead. Confused.

Mmmhhh…. these websites in Australia are never updated, oh it might have closed by now, but people are still writing good reviews about it… and they might have replaced it with an vintage butcher shop…. seriously??

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The old Betta Meats butchery or the trendy Earl’s Juke Joint?

We go back and forward a couple of times, till I decide that this can’t be possible, I want to try and open the door of this dark “butcher shop” (the once Betta Meats butchery… apparently). Once again, I am really glad to be that stubborn and curious in life! I felt like back in London again, where you often have to cross a travel agency or a vintage shop to get into clubs and bars….

Thanks Newtown for bringing me a bit of that London coolness downunder. I should maybe leave Surry Hills at times and explore your streets instead.

What I find once in was exactly what we were after: the Earl’s Juke Joint. A long cocktail bar with a vibrant atmosphere, highly competent bar tenders, energetic music and overall a great vibe. Very spacious and roomy and with a long list of wines, ciders, tap and bottle beers and of course an exciting selection of cocktails.

Oh, and I am hungry, remember? Well… the only food they serve is a $28 snack basket, delivered straight from the restaurant across the road, the Bloodwood. The basket is filled with anything meat – as you would expect in a butcher shop after all – from bresaola, to prosciutto, to salami and more… Ahhhh, the beauty of being flexitarian in situations like this! Well worth the money. Just on time to walk to the Enmore for a night of energising Scottish music.

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Earl’s Juke Joint in Newtown, Sydney.

The perfect non-planned Thursday night, with a bit of adventure and some pleasant surprises on the way. Keep surprising me like that Sydney, please.


WHERE IT IS:

Earl’s Juke Joint: 407 King Street, Newtown, NSW 2042, Australia

LINKS:

Enmore Theatre

Belle & Sebastian’s YouTube channel


THE CURIOSITY:

The bar is named over Earl Palmer, a New Orleans drummer who created the backbeat for rock ‘n’ roll. The bar pays tribute to the juke joints of the Deep South – informal and rustic with a little bit of loud music for dancing well into the night.

My Sydney – The Paramount Building in Surry Hills

After my post about the Collective Harvest experience, I received a few questions from curious people (I like those!) who wanted to know more about the building that hosts this lovely organic markets on Sat mornings.

The Paramount Building is what you are after!

The once empty, dark art deco building in the heart of Surry Hills (also known at the time as the ‘Hollywood Quarter’) has now been opened up and filled with brilliant natural light, a cafe and a variety of eccentric retailers – a signal of the building’s exciting creative and commercial re-imagining.

See what you can find in the building these days, but stay tuned… this is an evolving space:

THE COLLECTIVE HARVEST

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The Collective Harvest, Surry Hills, Sydney

Every Saturday morning (8.30am till 12.30pm) the rooftop of the Paramount Building gets full of colours and smells from the local produce of farmers around Sydney. Flowers, fresh veggies, fruits, eggs, cheese and bread (and more…) are brought to you by the guys at the Collective Harvest.

Read more about how it works and how to order some of these goods on my blog post.


PARAMOUNT COFFEE PROJECT & TOKYO BIKES

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Tokyo Bikes in Paramount Building, Surry Hills, Sydney

Built into the foyer space of Paramount House is the Paramount Coffee Project, which shares its space with the hyper cool Tokyo bikes. If you are not willing to buy one bike, you can still rent one for the day and explore Surry Hills and surroundings in the coolest way possible. Worth every penny.

But let’s talk about brunch at the Paramount Coffee Project. Exactly, it’s not just a cafe. It’s a project, where the owners have decided to have a constant rotation of guest coffee roasters and residencies, where the beans are ethically sourced and served accordingly to the different interpretations of several Australian roasters.

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Paramount Coffee Project, Surry Hills, Sydney

Do not expect your usual eggs benedict. If you are here for your Sat brunch, then it means you are up for something very different. The chefs have fun experimenting new and old recipes with unique and original ingredients. You won’t be disappointed, Ever. A part from the great food, the whole atmosphere is worth a visit: choose your seat in one of the long shared tables, order a tea (or a coffee, or a juice) and soak up the cool vibe that is surrounding you.


GOLDEN AGE CINEMA

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Retro bar at Golden Age Cinema, Surry Hills, Sydney

Head to the basement for a retro cinema experience which will throw you back in time: from the retro furniture and interior design to the actual selection of movies. The Golden Age Cinema has recently restored and reinvented the old screening room of the Paramount House. It now features a retro cocktail bar and a cinema which show independent movies, big classics and Sydney exclusives. Classy.

Check what’s showing now here.


POP-UP STORES

The first floor hosts pop-up shops where some great global fashion labels sell their entire stock at amazing prices for limited time only.

Last time I was there, the Swedish brand Someplace was selling some great quality clothes and shoes with 80% discount. I am not a fashion addict at all, but I went to the Paramount Coffee Project for breakfast and just could not resist to that Swedish fashion style….

It’s another one of those hidden gems in my local area. You just need to get lucky and be there when a new pop-up store is up. Keep exploring Surry Hills!


VICE MAGAZINE

And if the building needed to be even cooler… Vice Magazine also has chosen the Paramount House at its Australian head quarter! They are located on the roof top, right next to the Collective Harvest. Shame their office is always closed on a Sat morning when I go there to collect my Green Bag full of veggies & fruits…


WHERE IT IS:

80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, Australia


LINKS:

The Paramount Coffee Project Facebook page (website in construction)

  • Cuisine – Modern Australian
  • Prices – Breakfast $7-15, Lunch $10-$18, Coffee $4
  • Features – Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options

Collective Harvest website

Tokyo Bikes website

Golden Age Cinema website

Vice Magazine Australia

Australian wine regions series: ‘Be Consumed’ in Barossa Valley, SA

Another post from my Australian wine region series for all the fine food and wine lovers. I am sure there is plenty of you out there.

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My hat in a lavender field, Barossa Valley, South Australia

This time I visited the stunning Barossa Valley, just one hour driving outside Adelaide, in South Australia – and what a beautiful ride that is! The perfect start of your road trip.

Oddly, what inspired me this time was the soundtrack of the Be Consumed ad that SA launched last year to promote this great wine region:

Did you recognise Nick Cave’s voice? he is one of my favourite singers and that song in particular is aaahhhh, simply amazing! it’s incredible what music can do. In my case, it decided for me on my next trip! And Barossa Valley didn’t disappoint at all.

It did actually remind me of the golden hills of Tuscany and Umbria. And I am entitled to state this, having grown up in Italy – which also means I am very spoiled and annoyingly picky with food and wine.

I could re-live scenes of that ad myself, whilst walking in lavender fields with kangaroos jumping around, whilst eating the hearty and honest food of the region, and talking to locals who are so passionate about their wine and heritage.

I experienced so much in those days driving around the empty – yes, empty! no tourists around, and I was there in the high season – roads of the Valley, but I have selected a few highlights for you:

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Empty roads, perfect pic-nic spot on Seppeltsfield Road and more lavender fields… Barossa Valley, South Australia. 


EATING

Appellation Restaurant Barossa Valley_SouthAustralia

Appellation Restaurant, Barossa Valley, South Australia

  • Vintners: where the locals go – great atmosphere, family owned, interesting menu with exclusively local produce.

  • Appellation: make sure to book in advance. A very exclusive place, expensive but absolutely worth the price. They are BYO, but charge $35 for the corkage. They also have accommodation, called The Louise, again, really expensive but stunning design and high level of service. A very special place.

  • Fino is the newest addition to Seppeltsfield Road and it has already received super reviews since its opening. Fine fine dining once again!

  • FermentAsian: the best Asian-fusion restaurant in the Valley. The Vietnamese chef owner won’t let you down with his dishes. Guaranteed.


DRINKING

Artisans Of Barossa_SouthAustralia

Artisans of Barossa, South Australia

Seppeltsfield Road, where the restaurants Appelation and Fino are, is the heart of the Barossa, where most of the best wineries are located. You cannot miss it: there are a lot of lovely trees all along the two sides of the road, and plenty of options for wine testing one next to the other.

Do not get limited to my list of wineries below. It’s absolutely worth going there for a drive and stop by randomly to try new ones. 

  • Artisans Of Barossa: this a group of 7 winemakers that only sells boutique wine brands. Great atmosphere, views, wine and food.

  • Saltram is set in a beautiful building and they make flagship red wines renowned for their richness, intensity and character.

  • Yalumba, on the way to Eden. This is where I discovered that I am a Riesling kind of person!

  • Jacob’s Creek: even if you don’t want to go there to taste their wines (the Barossa can offer much more…), still I would stop by for some superb food and to chill out in the outdoor area. They have done a really good job there in terms of arranging spaces, architecture and design. And they also have accommodation options.

  • Hentley Farm: beautiful winery, in the heart of Seppeltsfield.

  • Two Hands Wines: another lovely structure and great wines, with spectacular views of the Barossa Valley from their outdoor area.

  • Whistler Wine: big garden, great views of the Valley. They often organise events with live music and more wine and cheese tasting in the garden.


SLEEPING:

Go Airbnb (you can get a discount voucher on your first booking here) or stay in one of the wineries. In both cases, you will have plenty of choice: there are some beautiful cottages available for rent and lovely guest houses in the whole Barossa. If you want to be close to the heart of the Valley, any of these villages are just a few mins drive from each other, just pick yours:

  • Tanunda
  • Eden
  • Angaston
  • Seppeltsfield
  • Nuriootpa
  • Rowland Flat

ACTIVITIES

Barossa Valley Lookout_SouthAustralia

That little dot in distance is me, at one of the many hidden lookouts around the Barossa Valley, South Australia.

There are also a lot of bush walking tracks in the natural parks all around the Barossa. With some stunning look out points:


It’s your turn now: go and discover more hidden gems in the Barossa Valley.

Be Consumed.