Best of 2018- Travels

A visit to Juventus’s stadium in Turin. Do it even if you don’t like football all that much, or support other clubs. It’s not ridiculously long and the guides are entertaining- provided you speak Italian, as English versions are mainly available only from tape, which I say is fine given we’re in Italy and all that. Allianz Stadium (oh the horror, it does have the name of a sponsor) was finalised for the 2011-2012 season, replacing the ungainly Delle Alpi, and is one of the only three club owned stadiums in Italy. As such, it is a prime example of a building being carefully thought out with a purpose– in our case, that of realigning a tradition marred by the club’s Serie B stint, bringing it to competitive levels both domestically and in Europe, and making it financially profitable. More horror, the romantic football fan will protest. Maybe, but let it be known that footballing dreams are not built from nothingness and stardust, they are made. With poise, ambition and a certain amount of cash invested smartly, among other things, in sound infrastructure. And occasionally, in the second best player in the world.

Ferry crossing at the Dardanelles. In spite of the memorials carved into the hillside, the tensions of history seem distant as our ferry makes its way across the Dardanalles, from the European shore towards the city of Çanakkale. Most passengers are locals, or domestic tourists making their way towards the Aegean- whether you are one or the other is made clear by the amount of selfies you take in the pinkish light of the sunset. A few cars have Romanian or Serbian plate numbers, so the language mixture is decidedly in line with what must have been heard in Ottoman villages and towns at the height of the empire. And this now peaceful stretch of water witnessed one of the best known and bloodiest battles in history, a last heroic victory of an ailing giant, that nevertheless did not manage to save it from its inevitable end. But the crimson lights of one’s dusk are those of someone else’s dawn- one of the most important figures of the Ottoman army, then known as Colonel Mustapha Kemal would later become Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Beer at Genoa’s Scurreria. I always find it interesting to compare the initial image I have of a well known destination, and the actuality of the place. My Genoa is that of fearless sailors, of a flourishing Mediterranean republic of impressive wealth, home to the poetically named Sampdoria football club, made even more exciting by my childish pride as I could impress adults by telling them I know Sampdoria is not the city but the name of the club, the city is Genoa. Genoa itself these days is a hot mess, an industrial port flanked by a Disney style aquarium and endless rows of Chinese knick-knacks being sold by foreignness always on the lookout for the impending arrival of the exasperated carabinieri. It’s a maze of narrow streets, clothes hanging from balconies, the pervading smell of fresh fish mingling with that of still medieval sewers, cats peering out from dark corners in hope of a tasty morsel, the disappointing house that may, or may not be, the home of Columbus. Getting lost in this maze is therefore easy, and offers unexpected surprises such as that of an unassuming but excellent craft beer bar where you can tank up on a most un-Italian drink around noon and after an IPA or two, returning to the metal wilderness of the port, your mind might just replace a monstrous cruise ship with the gilded vision of a galleon departing to conquer the unknown.

The salt mine of Slănic Prahova. I associate the smell of salt with that of adventure and happiness- my first important trip, as a child, was aged six, in the company of my grandmother, to the resort of Slănic Moldova, where she was to be cured of asthma, and I was to be cured of whatever was causing me to keep my parents awake while I coughed like a dog or seal- this is the apparent English version, but Romanian kids decidedly cough like donkeys. So that was me, giddy with excitement to go to a sanatorium. (Actual romanticizing of sanatoriums courtesy of Thomas Mann was to come later in life). Fast forward by more than a quarter of a century, and the scent of salt still makes me happy, even more so when accompanied by underground formations akin to those my imagination planted into the mines of Moria while reading the Lord of the Rings, even though Peter Jackson later opted for a different filmic rendering. Peter Jackson was, of course, wrong.  

Concert at Berlin’s Tempodrom. I’ll spare you the Alex, the Brandenburg Gate, the Siegessäule. You only get to really know cities once you live (in) them a little. The Tempodrom, looking a lot like a faded East-German postcard version of Sziget’s A38 tent, lies on the edge of the Kreuzberg district. Close by stand the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof, one of the main railway terminals of the city pre.WWII, and one that was extensively used to deport the city’s Jewish population. Today its ruins overlook a well kept football field on which about a dozen languages are spoken at once to ensure the fluidity of Sunday league games. In the evening, concert goers mingle with hipsters queuing at the Liquidrom, a spa with a giant pool fitted with underwater speakers. Crossing the Landwehr canal on your way home, you are met by the glimmering silhouette of a Douglas Raisin Bomber marking the entrance to the German Museum of Technology.

Yeşilyurt village. Logically, I only read up on the locations of our Turkish seaside outing once we returned. Namely, I checked a once comprehensive Lonely Planet guide, and Yeşilyurt was a measly entry of a couple of lines. Well preserved mountain village, it said. Nothing more. The writer had accidentally forgotten to specify just how lovely the place is, especially after a sudden late summer storm, ripe pomegranates heavy with fat, glistening raindrops, the air rich with thick scents of pine, lavender and fresh coffee , old ladies in vividly coloured baggy pants slowly navigating the slippery cobblestone alleys, the afternoon call of the muezzin rising from the skinny white marble minarets, the blue of the sea unexpectedly emerging in the distance through an opening in the cypress thicket. So next time you see something dismissed in two lines by an apathetic author, give it a third chance.

The Black Church. Speak of Gothic to me, and I will not picture monumental German cathedrals, but Braşov’s Black Church, and it will be larger than it is, larger than life, an ash coloured giant hosting the ghosts of unhappy faced medieval people, and possibly dragons spitting the fire that gave the church its unmistakable shade. Indeed, in spite of its thundering organ, its sounds awakened each time I placed our player’s needle in the thin grooves of the two records my father had bought from the church shop, the Black Church was never as much a place of worship to me as it was a place of possibly macabre tales, in the Edgar Allan Poe-ish vein of Gothic. I was later somewhat disappointed to discover that it is actually a Lutheran, and not a Catholic church, as the practices of the latter, Spanish inquisition and all, are decidedly more macabre than those of the first, but no one and nothing is perfect. And seen with an adult eye, the Church itself might feel less grand and mysterious. The medieval people depicted on the walls are still scary as hell though.

Eating at Munch’s Hus in Berlin. A few years back, eating fish would have been in an absolute no go zone, a wilderness now inhabited in nigh solitude by my ultimate nemesis. Broccoli. Age, though, makes one wiser and you discover that hating things by default does more harm than good, especially to yourself, as the object of your hate is often merrily in the dark about such passions. Except if you are a South American dictator, but fate will generally catch up with them too and then it will be too late. So don’t hate anything folks, except broccoli, you have my dispensation for that. Fish though is steadily climbing up my list of preferences, with the proper boundaries of course, like filet is preferable over all else, and slimy or limby sea food is still off limits. I therefore shocked my fish and Norway loving travel companion when I suggested we visit Berlin’s Munch Hus, but I have no regrets whatsoever- my salmon was fresh and delicious, seasoned with fragrant rosemary. No desperate Munchian cries, then, except perhaps over the beer. But then again, any fool knows that fish is better with wine, so I was, again, the architect of my own tragedy.

Kirche am Steinhof. Isolated on the hillside above Vienna, it is a Secessionist fever dream exiled to be the church of a sanatorium, once specialised in lung diseases and psychiatric care. While at first this can strike the visitor as  odd, a waste of gilded flourishes, late 19th and early 20th Century Vienna was of course home to many a consumptive artist, and became the birthplace of modern psychoanalysis. Regarded in this context, and also that of the bus ride that takes you there, through sedate suburbs with garden gnomes and sad dogs barking at passing cars, the whole arrangement becomes almost painfully Viennese, a world of storms brewing in quiet houses, grandeur born on the eve of destruction and joy bursting through the shadows of loss and death.

The view from the Mole Antonelliana. We began in Turin, so let us end there as well, in a place that offers a decent view of Allianz Stadium- important information for all the high school students arriving on the platform, and victoriously shouting out vedo lo stadio! Beyond such infantile enthusiasms, the Mole, always a bit cumbersome to shoot from the narrow streets surrounding it, its large structure never quite contained by the widest angled lenses, more than makes up with the panorama it offers. Turin, spreading out like a geometrical octopus, from its chessboard like heart and Baroque flourishes to the industrial wilderness of its outskirts stretching towards the snow covered Alps on one side, and the fertile valley of the Po on the other.

It recently dawned on me that I pestered the blog’s industrious co-photographer into editing the Allianz stadium shots, and then forgot to use them for a post, so here they came as a special end of year bonus. 


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