Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Things

Posted: November 29, 2015 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: ,
1990-RUSSIAN-SOVIET-NESTING-DOLL

Matrioshkas: Vintage set, exactly like mine.

– If it happened that right now you were tele transported to a different reality, in any place in the world where you have no connections, what would you have to take along?

I was asked that question once. Many things came to mind but I could not pinpoint the right answer.

-That´s because you need nothing. You should only need yourself. The rest are tools to be reacquired or just burden.

It is difficult to anticipate how simple and complicated all that could be, or to what extent that would be true or false.

I have spent the last five years of my life going around owning the minimum. Keeping a light luggage means having to decide frequently what to leave behind, and what travels with me. Those decisions gotta be practicality driven.

Some of these things, a few but still, I have kept not out of absolute necessity, but out of some sort of loyalty, memory or nostalgia. Some times I have decided not to give in into getting something new, even if I badly want it, to save space for what I already have.

I have kept a photo album put together to bring along. A collection of DVDs with school works. A Swiss army knife. And gigabytes full of memories, and the fear that some day all that could explode in a cloud of zeros and ones.

I would have been difficult to predict that after a while, the nostalgia for things changes. The nature of the things longed changes. Recently I have remembered my old set of Russian dolls, wondering whether those still exist. Or where did I leave, to whom did I ask to store the other set of Russian dolls that a friend gave me as a present. I have thought that I have no pictures from when I was a child and my parents were young, and I would want to have it.

Humans and things get entangled in complicated relationships. For some reason things are thought to be there to fill voids we can´t.

In Astoria, walking west in the 31st Avenue, you cross Vernon Boulevard to find yourself in front of the East River. It is a surprising spot in NY, kind of underrated, sort of hidden, with far less audience and visitors than it deserves.

spring NYThe other side is Roosevelt Island, and the skyline behind is Manhattan. If you turn right, you would find eventually in Astoria Park, which is a more visited and acknowledge spot, closer to restaurants and bars and the N,Q line. But if going left, then surprises pile.

spring NY (5)You can plan a BBQ on the Socrates Sculpture Park, a name more sumptuous than reality checks. There are a couple of statues, and cryptic installations, mixed with a welcome green-grass in a corner of Queens, where red brick rules.

spring NY (3)It´s a reserved spot for cyclist, picnic-style families, yoga practitioners and dog walkers.

If you keep walking the path, after a momentary step into the Vernon Blvd at Broadway, you are right again entering through a Costco gate, heading to a waterfront that is the Rainey Park.

spring NY (7)spring NY (8)The exit takes you to the 34 avenue… you can then decide to go back or keep walking a longer distance to Queensbridge Park. Or none of these and just take your walk back to the red brick heading to 21st Avenue, and again to Broadway, and 31st Street, in a green Astoria.

spring NY2

How to spot the “right place”

Posted: November 13, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: , , ,

That may sound like an odd question. Especially to those who have remained in the same place for most of their lives. But there’s a particular group among humans who really enjoy moving around. Those may understand the point of this question.

It’s a twisted joy, I admit. Of course we all seek for that sense of belonging, for someone or something or some place that we can relate with, that can recognize us, that we can recognize ourselves there… Still, there’s pleasure in being willing to keep looking where can we be better, of not giving up and settle down for less that we really want or believe we deserve.

Then, after a while living in different places, shifting from location to location, a sense of being “rootless” starts to develop. It grows, keeps gaining space inside us in an inverse correlation to the volume of the things we own The less we have, the more light we become. With this sort of lightness, a sense of freedoms then comes to plant a flag, or maybe spreads its wings… And that’s a wonderful feeling for those who own it… The flip side to that is that not everyone gets it, o a certain solitude comes along with the bargain.

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

There’s also the feeling of not really have a “place to return”. We were there, we’ve done that. Place after place. Suddenly we realize we don’t fit in our hometown anymore. Homeland becomes a ghost, or rather a unicorn, depending of whether we believe memories were real at some point, or were they always figments of our imaginations.

But no matter how much we really enjoy that sense of freedom, that lightness, the eyes are always vigilant trying to spot that “right place”. A right place for us. A right place for me.

The sad thing is that I don’t have an answer to that question. I have fallen in love with cities before, at first sight. I have thought I had arrived to my right place to later start feeling the same urge to go elsewhere, to leave again.

Maybe there’s no right place. Maybe the new place is always right, and time tames that thrill turning it into something different. There’s placer as well in what is familiar. I guess it depends on what we are willing to give up, give in, or just give.

Texture is the theme for this week’s photo challenge.

I took this shot on Mount Etna, Sicily, on June 2010. Over that field of solidified magma, where I was having a hard time walking, trying to keep the guide’s pace, I found that fragment of broken mirror, sharply reflecting the sunlight. I remember I wondered why was that mirror there, of all places, in the middle of a field of dry volcanic lava. It also created a sharp contrast of textures.

(c)jennroig. Mount Etna, Sicily, 2010

(c) jennroig. Mount Etna, Sicily, 2010

Not all the times, and definitely not at first sight, but from certain angles and under a sort of nostalgic mood, Catania did remind me of Havana.

(c) jennroig, Catania, Sicily, June 2010

(c) jennroig, Catania, Sicily, June 2010

The choice of Catania was a matter of time and budget constraints, but it was also about dreams and good luck. I was in Europe at the beginning of the summer of 2010, to kick-start that long vacation of three months, a break between the sprint that was the winter semester in Amsterdam and what it would be my German marathon to complete my master’s research project. Still in Amsterdam, I knew that I wanted to feel some southern European warm before embracing the German weather. When I told about it to a very good friend, we dreamed of a longer journey that would take us from Rome to Sicily and then to the Greek Islands. But then the Euro crisis was starting, and as I can actually communicate in Italian but neither of us knew a word in Greek, we ended up deciding to spend our four days in Sicily.

catania plaza

Catania, Piazza Duomo

Catania is the second largest city in Sicily, after Palermo, the island’s capital. We could have picked Palermo and it would have probably made a great experience as well. But Palermo is over the North Western Coast while Catania is located in the middle of the Eastern coast, so maybe we stuck with it because of the original thought of Greece… maybe that mood stayed with us… or maybe it was because it’s closer to Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe… or maybe it was just cheaper. I can’t really remember now.

We arrived there early in the morning, after a night journey that took us from from Rome to Sicily by train. Note: The Strait of Messina separates Italy from Sicily. As much as I can tell, there is no bridge yet connecting both sides of the country, and for sure there wasn’t any by then. But we didn’t need to leave our seats to board any ship, which makes me think there might be pretty gigantic ferries there. Or they separate the wagons… Any case, the mystery still haunts me today.

We arrived early, still hours away from the time when we could take over our beds on the B&B we had booked. But the owner was nice enough as to receive us, store our luggage and recommend us a great place to have a Sicilian breakfast.

When in Sicily, no matter at what time, make sure you’ll have a granita. And you can’t miss the oranges.

Roman, Arabic and Spanish heritage

catania 2

At different times in History, Catania has been dominated by culturally diverse powers. It was a Greek colony, part of the Roman empire, known as Medinat-Al-Fil during the emirate of Sicily and a member of the Crown of Aragon before the Spanish Empire would unified and claimed it as part of its territories. Only by the early 19th century Sicily -thus Catania- started to push toward the Italian unification, but it had to wait until 1960 when Garibaldi finally came to make it happen. Then Sicily joined the rest of the country.

aldabaDue to its proximity to Mount Etna, the volcanic eruptions have caused wreckage in the area on many occasions, so not every cultural legacy is as visible on the architecture and arts. Though the Spanish, the Arabic and the Roman influences are easy to notice in the streets and buildings of the city.

Maniglie in Italian; Aldabas in Havana

Maniglie in Italian; Aldabas in Havana

Besides the sculpture of the elephant -made of lava- that is part of the monument in Piazza Duomo and was supposed to protect the city against calamities, a visible Arabic influence is the “Aldabas“, as Cubans call it. Italians call it “maniglie” to those handlers for front doors, but if it’s ornamented with some human or animal figure, it is a legacy from the period of Islamic domain over Southern Italy and the Iberian peninsula.

On the other hand, to put it mildly, the Roman remains are in your face, once you are walking around the streets of the city. The biggest testimony is the amphitheater and the ruins of the town that Catania used to be on ancient Roman and maybe Greek times. It is such a pity that the ruins are not taken care of as they should be.

anfiteatro

Obviously Catholicism makes up for another huge part of the cultural influences in Catania. There are many churches representing different periods in time and styles. As in the rest of Italy, just turning around a corner can make you find a building centuries old with a great story inside, and a storyteller eager to tell it.

catolicismo

My favorite, in fact, wasn’t the cathedral at Piazza Duomo. It was a smaller one, that I found so similar to the church that I used to visit back in my hometown.

chiesa

Now that I see it better, and I actually think about it, maybe it’s no similar at all. Maybe there’s little to no relation between this arty church in Catania and that old church in my memory. But that’s the thing with memory, right? It starts losing shapes and tones with years, it gets selective and irrational and it takes the most unexpected paths to bring feelings along.

If ever in Sicily, I recommend paying a visit to Catania. It is so close to wonders – both Human and natural – such as Mount Etna and the beaches of Taormina, and Syracuse, with many choices of public transport to do those short trips. The food is great, the people are endearing, the colors are awesome. And from the harbor there are ferries going to the Greek Islands, so you could make that Greek Dream to come true.

I confess it, I have some unresolved issues with Amsterdam. Although I lived there for a semester in 2010, from January to June, I didn’t manage to figure out my feelings for the city. So let’s try to break this down.

The landscape

(c) Giulio Cesaroni. Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2010

(c) Giulio Cesaroni. Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2010

Yes, Amsterdam is massive. It’s a mix of history, modernity, great architecture and engineering. A great evidence of how much mankind can accomplish. Have you heard the saying that “God created the Earth but the Dutch created the Netherlands”? Well, Amsterdam would be the exact embodiment of that statement. adam (6)

adam (5)As soon as you are there, before you’ll actually get to the Red District, the canals will be the first thing that catches your eyes. The second will be the bridges, especially the older ones that still work and are elevated to grant pass to the boats. I found interesting that, for a society that seemed to be in a hurry almost all the time, no one seemed upset waiting for the bridge to come down again.

Amsterdam is below the sea level, a city stolen from Poseidon. There has to be persistent supervision to all the infrastructure of bridges, canals, dams, harbors and the port. I guess this could be a reason why so many Dutch I met were so organized and good at planning.

In general, the infrastructure is great. From technology to public transport, everything seemed state of the art. Everything except for the architecture. The city is packed with these tall, skinny buildings that clearly show a sort of Lutheran style -beautiful but solemn and sober. The structures are so old that need that metallic reinforcement between stores. Some buildings are leaning over the next one, because the foundations are not strong and have changed with time. A clear evidence that is a city build over the water.

adam (9)

Even if buildings are leaning, and corpses of dead people need to be taken out through the windows because there’s no way to carry them down the stairs, rents in Amsterdam are easily among the most expensive in Europe, which is a lot to say in a continent that also includes Copenhagen, Paris, London and Hamburg…

If you are dreaming with a season living on one of those lovely boat-houses, I’ll recommend you to make sure you’ll dispose of a deep pocket.

adam (2)

What to do

Once in Amsterdam, there are of course some must-go places. The Van Gogh Museum comes to mind and the branch of the Hermitage; the “Bloemenmarkt” or Flower Market; The Anna Frank House if interested on the topic and the suffering; the local Chinatown is over Zeedijk Street, close to the train station, though there is a lot of Thai, Korean and other Asian cultures mixed there, not just Chinese; for shopping I’d recommend Kalvertoren; the Red District is over both Oudezijds Streets.

Oh! For a surrealist experience, don’t miss Paradiso, an ex church building turned into “sanctuary for the creatures of the night”.queen day (1)

Another “healthier” choice is heading to the city parks, in case you are simply a daylight person.

queen dayQueen’s Day used to be on April, celebrating Queen Beatrix birthday. You will have to check whether the Dutch keep the holiday or moved it match the current King’s B-day. Either way, there are no other days like those to party hard in the city.

Amsterdam is actually a really overcrowded city with over 780,000 inhabitants in a very small area. On Queen’s Night and following Day everybody goes out to parade, dance, smoke, drink, and eventually lay around under the sun or drunk in an alley or rather by the side of a canal.

Transportation

The public transportation system includes a metro system that covers a limited area -very narrow space where there are no canals-, buses and trams inside the city and trains that connect to suburbia and neighboring towns such as Hilversum or cities such as Haarlem. Everything runs punctual. But the farther you are from downtown, the less convenient it is to use it.

Imagine Amsterdam as a series of rings sharing the same center: the port that is close to the train station. That’s also the main spot to catch buses and trams. The different routs tend to follow lines that are like radius of the rings: so the wider the arch connecting the radius, the wider the distance between routes and stations. That is why, if you are planning to visit, you should consider renting a bicycle instead of a car or resorting to public transport.

Seasonal amusement park at Dam Square, the heart of the city, to celebrate the spring

Seasonal amusement park at Dam Square, the heart of the city, to celebrate the spring

I loved that it is a city made for boats, bikes and pedestrians. Going around in a car gets to be not only impractical, but a real nightmare. But I hated its very humid weather, the constant rain in the winter.

But I admit, when eventually the sun decides to shine, outside is the place to be.

Amsterdam, March, 2010.

Amsterdam, March, 2010.

I also hated the city’s double standards. Prostitution is legal, but you would probably have a hard time finding any Dutch prostitute. The Red District feeds from human traffic, and those are the bodies in display behind the glasses. If you haven’t yet seen this ad for Stop the Traffik, do it now. A sharp irony is that the Red district is located one block away from the University van Amsterdam’s building where I attended my second semester as visiting MA student. UvA is among the most important centers of knowledge in Europe and probably the world. I can’t decide if this is real open mindedness or simple double standards.

Marihuana is sold legally in coffee shops and “soft drugs” are allowed to be consumed in student dorms, but the authorities aren’t granting any new licenses to open new coffee shops and they are actually using any pretext to shutdown the existing ones. In the surface is beautifully diverse, a cosmopolitan dream, but underground xenophobic feelings are polluting the air, water and soil. The name of Geert Wilders and the Party of Freedom comes to mind.

adam (7)Historically and culturally, The Netherlands are very influenced, and a lot can be explained and understood, by something called “Pillarisation“.

The pillars are four, segmenting people according ideology or religion. Catholics, Protestants, Social-Democratics and then Socialists. Back in time, a catholic would only read a catholic newspaper, purchase from a catholic business and employ catholic services. The same pattern would repeat in the rest of the groups. That explains a lot today’s political system and media in The Netherlands, to mention very visible elements.

According Wikipedia: “The development of pillarisation in the Netherlands was favoured by the emancipation of working and lower-middle classes on the one hand, and the execution of elite control on the other hand. The emancipation of the working class led to the establishment of socialist parties, trade unions, media, cooperative shops and collectively organised leisure activities. This “full care” of the socialist movement for its members existed similarly in other European countries. The emancipation of the conservative and often strongly religious lower-middle class fostered the emergence of the Protestant pillar. While the Dutch bourgeoisie was rather liberal and adhered to “enlightened” Protestantism, a large part of the lower middle class embraced a more orthodox Calvinist theology taught by preacher and politician Abraham Kuyper.”

Don’t get me wrong. I can see the wonders, peculiarities and greatness of Amsterdam. Still, I am not its advocate. Maybe it’s the best choice for a sudden, quick visit, but spending time there leaves a certain sense of otherness. There are so many people there, so many tourists in the way of locals, so many newcomers from so many corners of the world, that somehow the city has become a hostile playground where everyone could fit, but it is difficult to belong. adam (10)

Today I’m turning 31 years old, I was 27 when I left my home country, Cuba.

Give it or take, it has been 3 and a half years. During that period, I have been living in seven countries, sleeping in twelve different rooms, each one of them with a particular, meaningful view. Sometimes I lived in a room for several months, others were just a place to crash for no longer than 15 days.

I’m not planning to show a view from every single room I lived. Instead, I want to gather some of my most beautiful shots, not because of its technical virtue or the beauty of the landscape, but because I was feeling happy when I took them all.

This is the view from my window. My current window.

cc jennroig

cc jennroig: Tampa, FL, USA

I like windows, way more than I like doors. I always insist doors are meant to be closed, because such it’s their philosophical-metaphysical purpose. But windows are a totally different business, they were indeed meant to be opened.

Anne's, Copenhagen, Denmark

Anne’s window, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2009

When a window cannot be opened because it’s too cold outside, at least it must be made of glass. That’s the case of Anne’s window. Anne is Danish, but I met her in Cuba. She was studying cinematographic production while I was there to become a scriptwriter. Two years after she graduated, Anne received me at her house in Copenhaguen. She took care of me, of my timings so I didn’t miss my flight to Rome. I was totally a snow rookie, I couldn’t know how slower it’s everything after a snowfall. I flew from Billund, Denmark, and this is pretty much how the landscape looked back then.

Dinamarca-2009b

On my way to Billund, December 2009

It was December 15th when I saw my first snowfall. I was actually still in Aarhus, at my dorm in the Vilhelm Kiers Kollegium. I had been cleaning my room for hours, and just before I took my shower and went to sleep, a checked my facebook and there was my Kenyan friend to tell me to open the window to see the snow.It was awesome. I remember I was amazed because it wasn’t even that cold. I got out of my room through the window to step over that white soft blanket. The grass had already disappeared under that layer of white dust. I think it took only a couple of hours to cover the grass completely. One step, two steps. I have no words to describe the sound of my shoes over the snow. I would like to, because I have friends in the tropics who might never feel the snow. I wish I could explain it. I touched it, I tasted it. I was soaked when I returned to my room. I had to wash my hair, and then dried it. I almost didn’t sleep that night. My last night in Aarhus.

Castel Gandolfo, 2010

Castel Gandolfo, 2010

It was dark and rainy when I arrived to Rome. My cousin was waiting me at the airport, I hadn’t seen her for years, but she looked exactly the same as I remembered her. After all those final essays, and travels, my body was exhausted. It hold until I arrived there, then I got sick, to follow a trend that lasts even today.

The weather and I recovered at the same time. One shiny morning we drove to Castel Gandolfo, one of those small towns on the outskirts of Rome that locals name “I Castelli Romani”. Castel Gandolfo is the site if the Pope’s summer residency, so the Vatican State also holds another piece of territory in this tiny town.

The lake, with the same name, is twice as big as the Nemi lake, and it was also originated as a volcano crater.

vaticano-2010Even if it doesn’t look like, this is one view you could see from one of the many windows in the Vatican Museum. It was a misty day. I must have been one of the immensly fortunate tourist that didn’t need to do a very long line to enter the building. I was so lucky that I didn’t do any line at all. I remember I arrived early, it was cold, but not as much as I could have experienced in Denmark. I spend the whole day inside that place, half of the time looking a the magnificent ceilings.

Vatican Ceiling

Vatican Ceiling

USA comedian Sarah Silverman recorded a video some years ago arguing that the Vatican could be sold as a solution to feed the world. I don’t exactly agree with her. I think it’s ok to have all that wonderful Art gathered in one single place, open to visitors from all over the world that come to admire it. However, I still believe there’s something of value in that idea. Maybe it’s not selling the Vatican Art to feed the world but devoting the entry fee to that purpose. Thousands of people visit the museum every year. I’m positive the Vatican makes millions only out of that museum, and it doesn’t pay taxes, so…

lavapies-madrid 2010

Lavapies, Madrid, 2010

This is a view to the sky over Lavapies, in Madrid. I was there for a week on March, just on time to enjoy the beginning of the spring in Madrid. Lavapies is indeed one of the most amazing areas of that city. It’s old, charming, full of squares, small galleries, bookstores, close to El Prado, El  Museo Reina Sofía and the Cinemateque. It is also the place to go if you want to find the best foreign food in Madrid.

I visited Madrid when I was living in Amsterdam, during my second semester of the master. I now find that I don’t have any photograph from my window room there. No surprise, I really didn’t like there.

Vigo, Spain

Vigo, Spain

But I do have a photo of the view from the Townhall in Vigo, Galicia.

I was there many times during that summer, covering press conferences from politicians, government representatives, and even I was there when Mötorhead was in Vigo for a summer concert.

Aside from covering local politics and having to eventually listen to Galician speeches from people who could perfectly, al almost, speak Spaish, the best thing about going there was the view from the windows.

And then Hamburg. I received 2011 in Hamburg, where I turned 29. I lived in the Reeperbahn neighborhood. The Fish Market, the immigrants and the prostitutes, can be found there. I could see from my window two young girls always standing in the corner, even in the winter, which made me feel half uncomfortable half curious. I was told later they were probably prostitutes. It is the crazy-night-out neiborghood, where there’s this one street with block closed to women and only men can get inside because it’s prostitudes kingdom. It’s in the San Pauli area, so I could see every once in a while a lot of fans of the San Pauli football team parading the victory or probably the defeat of their team.

That’s the end of my periplum for that first year. I’ll bring the rest of the windows some other day.

Reeperbahn, Hamburg, 2010-2011 winter

Reeperbahn, Hamburg, 2010-2011 winter

A bonus: Sarah Silverman vs Vatican