Minu lemmiklinnad… (My favourite cities)

Selline teema tekkis mõni aeg tagasi ühes (vist peamiselt Ameerika päritolu) Egiptuse-fännide foorumis. Läks minugi mälu veidi nostalgiliselt liikvele, pole ju siit pere ja kodu ehitamise keskelt enam pikka aega mujale saanud kui Kairo-Praha-Tallinn-Praha-Kairo liinile. Mis muidugi pole ka sugugi halb liin, väike varahommikune süst Praha vanalinna munakivisillutisele on just paras, et öölennu järgset rammestust peletada, ning viimane pooleteisetunnine ots möödub tšehhide kuuma guljašši ja helde punaveiniannuse toel pea märkamatult – näe, ongi juba Oleviste torn, näe, seal vasakul!

Reise pole ju ka palju, kuid siiski – mitte kõik linnad pole südamesse jäänud, ei ole tekkinud sellist piisavat elamust, mis siia nimekirja neid tooks. Seepärast järgneb siin ainult mälestus viiest linnast, koos linkidega illustreeriva fotomaterjalini, väidete tõestuseks. 🙂


I think a good city simply has to be near water, but interestingly they mostly are, too.

I like (in no particular order) Amsterdam, Napoli, St. Petersburg, Stockholm and (naturally) Tallinn.

Amsterdam thanks to its canals is a heaven for pedestrians, there are almost no streets with heavy traffic in the interesting area. Most cars I saw, were all tiny mini versions of cars and were parked by the streets, not moving. You get the romantic views of course, excellent dining options, excellent shopping in boutiques where they let your male or female companion sip champagne (or any non-alcoholic, for that matter) while you browse, pluss you get all affordable brands in the vicinity of that, to taste a marihuana cake, or was it opium or whatever, if wish, plus you get the great museum of Van Gogh

http://www.wagner.edu/departments/art/sites/wagner.edu.departments.art/files/images/Van_Gogh_Starry_Night.jpg

…and several others (the Flamish painters – recall anything, ugh?)


http://www.nga.gov/feature/vermeer/index.shtm

Then one of the last really beautiful cinemas in the world – the Tuschinsky (Art Deco, I believe?)

http://www.google.com.eg/search?q=Tuschinsky+photos&hl=ar&client=firefox-a&hs=U9b&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=ivns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=lNqWTZCiHoSWswbJvqDJCA&ved=0CB0QsAQ&biw=1024&bih=575

Ferry trips on canals of course, nice cosy hotels built into several adjoined tiny buildings, with intricate corridors circling inside, great bookshops (Hague is home to several academic European printhouses)… what more?
Hague is a few hours away by train, great beach though windy and a miniature Dutch city – Madurodam – is there somewhere.


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0a/Madurodam_pays_bas.JPG

***
Napoli, or Naples. For those long impossibly narrow cobbled streets lined with impossibly high buildings and everyone’s washing hanging from one side to the other over your head.

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/10-streets-of-naples-andre-goncalves.html

The world’s best pizza, bought right on the street and enjoyed from hand while walking on, from where pizza originates, of course. The funicular – funiculare! We rode twice – once to get up the hill for the view and down again, and a second time simply for the pleasure of riding! For Napoli’s another main and very historical attraction – their expert pocket thieves! We had an encounter in a bus, had nothing in our pockets (knew ahead) so it was also just fun.

For the view of the Vesuve.
http://www.hotelmasaccio.net/immagini/napoli.jpg

For music lovers – for the voice of Enrico Caruso and the likes, and Neapolitan bel canto. Cheap “vintage” CDs for 5EUR sold in baskets on streets!
http://www.amazon.com/gp/recsradio/radio/B00005MO14/ref=pd_krex_listen_dp_img?ie=UTF8&refTagSuffix=dp_img
(Listen to the second one – O sole mio, of course!)

But Napoli is actually greatest for making a small round tour by ferries or speedboats – we did one such in 36 hours exactly, staying in Sorrento for the night. Look at the map here:

http://www.italyguides.it/us/campania/campania_italy.htm

First, ferry off to the island of Ischia (perhaps from the small port of Pozzuoli at the outskirts of Napoli, where Sophia Loren grew up) for some laid back beach life and great, great waterparks, they call them thermal spas, with natural hot water flowing in from the mountains. All hotels even the most inexpensive ones live on that water, all have hot pools.

http://www.hotelmiramare.it/galleria_aphrodite.asp

http://www.onischia.com/Spas-Beauty/Spas-Beauty
Then to the island of Capri, for the natural wonders, world’s greatest views from high up, and to spot some glitzy folks choosing designer bikinis from the streetside for their new pet-on-arm. Or something to the effect. Great food all over, not so expensive in back streets as on main square.


http://www.portfoliochest.com/files/images/capri%20island.preview.jpg

Then back to mainland, not quite an hour by speedboat to Sorrento, or Positano, or both, for a romantic walk and dinner, great great food, eg. mussles cooked in white wine, and profitroles for dessert. Not at all expensive.

http://www.pizzeriaaurora.com/aurora/index.php

Mega big lemons called cedrone. Watch the webcam – feel the sun! 😀

http://www.aminta.com/widget/live_webcam/live_sorrento_webcam.php

Then visit the Pompei ruins, if want, and end up your minitour back in Naples. More run-down, cosier and cheaper than the posh north of Italy, and the most, most friendly folks, they literally take your hand and walk you to where you asked to go. One might think the Italians must be tired of tourists – no!
We did not shop because only had 4 hours in Naples (main stay on Ischia) but what we saw pleased us so much that we decided to go back on a separate trip for Naples only.

http://www.napleschamber.org/media/images/inline/shopping.jpg

http://www.italyguides.it/us/napoli/umbe.htm

But never did it yet , because next came Egypt and Sharm el Sheikh and… (oh!)

***
St. Petersburg for a glimpse of royal and intelligent Russia. Don’t know why but the folks in St. Peterburg seem much more intelligent and behave much more intelligently than those in Moscow, though Moscow has all the main universities aso. But M. like Cairo suffers from that literally everyone moves here from everywhere, so it is a town with no architecture, no roots, no… it is simply a huge mess with a tiny decorative Kremlin and some high&expensive life in the middle.
St. Petersburg is best in summer – when you literally have no nights over there. The sun sets around midnight, then rises again shortly after three, but it doesn’t realy get dark in-between. They rise the bridges over the Neva river for the ships to pass through, at around 1 at night for several hours, so if you were stuck on one side – wrong side from your hotel – you are stuck there. Better take one of those small ferries and a short trip on the river, you never know who migh chat you up on there.

http://www.saint-petersburg.com/bridges/index.asp

Also in summer the fountains work in Peterhof – Peter the Great’s would-be answer to Versaille (tinier but much much more grandiose), complete with a garden of what must be thousand or maybe five thousand fountains in all shapes and styles. You find great waterfalls, decorative ones and tricky ones (which start working because you stepped on a certain stone).

http://www.ticketsofrussia.ru/peterhof/founimg/Peterhof.jpg

http://www.saint-petersburg.com/peterhof/

The Hermitage of course, and if that is not enough then the Tsarskoje Selo – one more village of royal palaces, this is the one where you can visit the Amber Room – a room entirely covered with amber and filled with amber items.

http://1.1.1.5/bmi/www.russianamber.com/Images/Gal/room04.jpg

http://www.google.com.eg/search?q=amber+room+photos&hl=ar&client=firefox-a&hs=dBe&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=ivns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=IfmWTaj0KcqKswbW_O3OCA&ved=0CB0QsAQ&biw=1024&bih=548

Though they use rather big mirrors in-between so the quantity required was perhaps quite not so horrible.

Even the underground metro in St Petersburg is a palace, actually, do go just for the pleasure of stepping off at EACH station, and viewing it, old:


http://www.andrewlmoore.com/images/photography/Avtovo_metro_station-St._Petersburg.jpg

… or new:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ST_Petersburg_Metro_Kirovsky_Zvod.jpg

For sampling real Russian Blini (version of pancakes) with smetana and caviar – not as expensive here and there are cheaper varieties that still taste geat. Plus the hundreds of other great Russian pies and cakes and breads, with tea from a huge samovar.

There are quite several OPERA theatres in the town, but Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet and Opera Theatre is perhaps the best known, artistically offering not a tat less than the Bolshoi in Moscow, and don’t worry about what you are wearing – people here come exclusively for the performance and artists, not for showing off (may have changed a bit with all those nouveaux rich, but don’t think much).
You can fly from there to spend a couple of hours on the Red Square in Moscow, if want.

***
While, to sample winter, if not Russian then still full with snow and ice – come to Tallinn instead. If you loved Prague, you will adore Tallinn – it’s smaller but also more old, more authentic, and much less expensive, miniature little sister in the north. Tallinn itself is indeed so tiny (the part worth seeing) that it is actually best to do the whole Estonia rather – a couple of days in Tallinn, and a couple in the countryside. The town, esp. Old Town for some wonderful frosty walks in cobbled winding streets, never empty of cafeterias, restaurants, pubs, little mysterious shops, all so near you will find escape from the cold any moment you want to. Mostly all of them have a great welcoming fireplace and real live log fire.
http://tallinn24.info/tallinn_2.jpg

Visit the central hill for some great views over the town (quite like in Naples), then descend to sample authentic handwork in the Christmas bazaar on the Town Hall square, then walk on for some hot spiced wine or a coffee or hot chocolate.. whatever.
http://www.prlog.org/10403537-amazing-christmas-market-tallinn-relaxing-time-at-the-swisstel-tallinn-estonia.html
http://planetpooks.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/estoniachristmas.jpg

Shop in markets where all food still tastes real fresh food, and is mostly free of preservatives – all Estonian food is still almost organic food by comparison to other parts of the more advanced world. Not quite Italian cuisine perhaps, but there is a lot to choose from. Pub grub is my own favourite – usually the freshest, not overly fussed about in the French style, fresh and honest and nourishing like at grandma’s.
Then off to some wine cellar perhaps, portwines are my own favourite and also a bit more suitable for cold times plus they do not make you sleepy like wines do, unless you by now intend to become sleepy, in which case you have several cellars there run by real wine afeccionados who´ll only be too glad to guide you through your choices, plus there is usually a bottle or few of really grand wines open, so you can buy by glass what you never thought you could afford otherwise.
http://www.vinoteek.ee/

For the night animals all “hot” nightclubs are pretty much within walking distance from each other. There is something in Opera on all nights except Mondays… plus usually a concert or two, or ten, in all imaginable styles from early music
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/recsradio/radio/B000XH3EYE/ref=pd_krex_dp_a

…to hiphop. You won’t get La Scala perhaps or Broadway, but how often do you go to those anyway, ah?

Then next day drive out to the countryside for some serious detoxication, it does not have to be a spa (though you will find a multitude) – a simple Estonian sauna in an authentic farm house but with all comforts does it just as well.
http://www.matsitalu.ee/joomla/

Into the hotroom, then a jump into iced lake or thick snow, then into hotroom again – you’ll be sleeping like a baby after that and fresh like after the Japanese hot/cold pools the next day. Plus you will rest your eyes on the largest amount of forestland you’ve ever seen in your life, all mostly undisturbed – go for a walk, you might spot some rabbits or a fox or a deer.

Or sample luxury in some of the boutique hotels out in the countryside.
http://www.padaste.ee/photo-album/

Perhaps take a ferry to one of the islands or – if you are lucky and come in the right time about end of February – you might be able to enjoy a ride by car over sea – yes, frozen sea.
http://static.epl.ee/pildid/2007/normal/109916.jpg
http://farm1.static.flickr.com/29/100097140_a1fc00d724.jpg?v=0
There are several distances available from 2.2 to some 20 km and it is absolutely safe because all is set up, marked and patrolled by local road maintenance dept. Have a picnic out there – many do! – and DO take sunglasses – because if the sun is out the light is sharp bright, about like sitting in, or next to, a crystal palace.

But do have interesting company with you, or a great bottle of wine, or both – there’s not much nightlife out there.

Then back to the capital, luckily the airport is just 5 minutes from the central square, so off you go, the couple of hours it takes to most mainland Europe cities is just the right amount allowing to reminisce…

***
And Stockholm? In many ways like Tallinn, though of course much much bigger and oh so orderly in the nice undisturbed by wars Scandinavian way. The best about Stockholm is actually the approach to Stockholm, by sea. If long trips from Helsinki or Tallinn by ferry seem too much for a beginner cruiser, then take a half shorter journey from the Finnish port of Turku, appr 2 hours from Helsinki by bus or rail, via Mariehamn to Stockholm – it almost never exits from the archipelago to the wild sea. Ships are top modern by the way, the newest and biggest now are actually owned by the Estonian Tallink – samples here: http://www.tallinksilja.com/et/web/ee/baltic-queen

In the evening wine and dine, the lavish buffet table is at your service for a fixed fee for as long as you do not exit the room! And because it is one of the main “attractions”, then chefs are really really good at it. Then relax in a bar or perhaps the show that night is not quite so tacky (sorry for that!). But mainly have a good rest – do not know why, but the sheets in ferry cabins are always the crispiest and the air is of course so fresh. Winds are really only terrible in September and/or October – at all other times you’ll sleep like a baby. Prepare to wake up at around 5 in the morning (better go in warm season when sun is up early) and sit down in a cafeteria with the largest possible windows, with the hugest cup of coffee you can find – and enjoy! Oh – what is that tiny thing down there – oh it is a tiny island with just an even tinier house on it! Just metres from the ship that looms over it like a huge floating city, busily navigating its way through the Stockholm archipelago – a maze of smaller and bigger islands all around you, until it reaches the port in the middle of the Stockholm city at around 10 in the morning. (They’ve done it for tens of years so you can totally trust they know where they are going or where they are turning – though at times it may seem impossible there is a passway ahead.)
http://www.visitsweden.com/ImageVault/Images/conversionFormat_13/id_776/ImageVaultHandler.aspx

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_ZFYKGkvluGw/SOEj__TI0QI/AAAAAAAAA9k/KgvuIYPqk-k/s320/Stockholm+Archipelago+08.JPG

And that’s about it, in all other aspects Stockholm is just another totally pleasing European or Scandinavian town offering everything you might wish.

***
In Egypt, I do not like places actually, because except for rare quarters, they are not mostly beautiful, right? Or maybe Luxor is? Ok, Corniche in Alex is too, esp. early in the morning. But Egypt, incl Cairo, is special for the great sense of life here, the vibes of life pulsing in the streets and getting you every time you are out in an Egyptian town, any town actually. And that is why I gladly live here most of the time, and to those other places I go from here for a week or so, if miss them. 😉

***
I’d still love to go to Istanbul in Turkey, to DAMASCUS in Syria – living so close to it, would be a shame to miss it; perhaps Beirut in Lebanon, if can be assured it is safe; interestingly have never been to London yet (because I mostly try to run FROM rain, and not INTO it), and not to Paris, but would not want to go to Paris, simply because if in France I think the French countryside is much much more worth the visit – to take a car and slowly make your way through it, sampling and enjoying. Toulouse to Paris, for example.

Would love to go to New York one day, but with no kids hanging to me. 😀 (Is it really so cosy there as they show in all those Christmas-time melodramas?)

About other continents, don’t know, I loved Thailand, but Bangkok for example is just too chaotic for really enjoying it. And I guess it is the same in all Latin America. I think I prefer more intimate kind of towns, and to have people with at least some morals and manners around me.

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