Category Archives: travel

The View from the Duomo

The building looks like this

Image result for Florence Duomo

And the view?

And just what is the history of the Duomo?

During the 13th century, it was a rich city thanks to the local guilds and it was looking to show off. At the time the wool guild was new and ready to show off its prowess. This is why the government at the time entrusted them with the undertaking of creating this cathedral. Immense in its size and fortitude, it was started in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio but in total the cathedral took over a hundred and forty years to finish. The date of consecration was March, 1436. – See more at:

Living Up to Venice

Venice is, of course, one of the most intriguing and beautiful cities on earth. And because of that, it is dying.

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The problem is that instead of treasuring it, we are exploiting it. Consider – Venice has only 54,000 residents in its center city area. And it is taking in around 30,000,000 tourists every year. This is just too many people. Worse still are the cruise ships that disgorge large numbers of tourists who have already eaten and slept, and who just wander around for a few hours and then leave.  And these folks arrive only at peak tourist season.

Image result for Venice cruise ships

The trend is not good. CityHub gets into the challenges. The good news – local citizens are starting to demand changes in policy so that tourism does not totally destroy what is left of the city.  The piece ends this way

Saving Venice from submerging in a toxic mess of over-exploitation is nonetheless something that many people should care about, regardless of whether they have visited or plan to. Venice, after all, is concrete proof that, far from being completely awful, humans are in fact ingenious, cultured, resourceful, and creative beings. We’re capable of both engineering a great city from unpromising tide-lashed swamp mud and of making that city an unparalleled hub of architectural genius and social experimentation. It’s a happy miracle that this strange aquatic city is still a living organism, a place whose intricacy of invention and gut-punchingly intense beauty can make onlookers involuntarily giggle with sheer delight. Beleaguered as it may be, Venice is still the best of us. We can’t let it drown.

Amen brother!


Breakfast in Yunnan

For a moment, picture yourself waking up in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.

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We are splurging here, staying at the Intercon.

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BTW, Yunnan is a mountainous region is the south.

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But what is for breakfast? If you want to eat like a local, you will be looking for a bowl of  Mi Xian.

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Oooops!  I see in the picture that this Mi Zian is made with fat rice noodles. That means it is called mi gan! And

An order of soup arrives with some assembly required: It’s up to each customer to season their own bowl to their liking with the dozen-plus condiments at a nearby table. At the best shops, these include homemade roasted chile pastes, local mountain herbs, and an array of pickled vegetables.

Decisions so early?`That will take some getting used to!



On a Late Night Prowl in Peckham Rye

You know what you can find in London’s center. But you might not want to limit yourself.

Like Bushwick, Peckham’s longtime grit and relatively low cost of living has inevitably come under siege by the money-hungry forces of gentrification in a tale that’s been well told on both sides of the pond. To really understand the neighborhood’s identity and its emergence as a cultural and food destination, I linked up with born-and-bred Peckham resident An Nguyen who, along with her five siblings, mother, aunts, and cousins, own and operate Bánh Bánh, a modern Vietnamese restaurant located on Peckham Rye.

Who knew?

Hmmm …  and where to stay? The Guardian weighs in — recommending newly upgraded Victoria Inn. And if you are heading over in the summer —

In summer, a Peckham highlight will always be a rooftop drink on the 10th floor of the multistorey carpark, home to the city-famous Frank’s Cafe. Later nights can be had at the CLF Art Cafe, better known as the Bussey Building, a huge multi-arts warehouse venue, that does popular club nights, plus theatre and dance performances. Daytime draws include the South London Gallery, a hub for YBAs in the 1990s, and Rye Wax, a shop selling records, graphic novels and ‘zines that also hosts events from spoken word to DJs.

How to Make Fisinjan in Baku

It is a dish that you will not find in any of Julia Child’s cookbooks. And I am confident that Julia would have raised an eyebrow if were on offer at a dinner party. If you are curious, this gives some initial insight  (from Saveur)

Mehriban Kazimova, the 69-year-old mother of my Baku friend Zulya, is sticking long iron nails of the hardware variety into a pomegranate the size of a baby’s head. She then lowers her spiky work into a pot bubbling with a slurry of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Then she heats a horseshoe over a burner. A horseshoe. Grabbing oven mitts, she screams an incantation in Azeri and drops the red-hot horseshoe—splosh! clunk!—into the pot, leaving the whole fairy-tale brew to simmer just short of forever, until it’s time to strain out the metal.

Errr … why the screaming? Apparently that is needed to frighten the stew into blackening. Of course! One can imagine  — with a bit of trepidation — what an apartment block might sound like just before dinner time. A good reason to stop on the way home from work for a pop … or three.

After the extended exertion, you might get something like this

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That is the fisinjan in the foreground.

I took the above quote from Anya von Bremzen’s rather colorful article about her culinary experiences in Baku.  The ending captures the flavor of the thing

Zulya taps my shoulder, as if reading my mind. “Anya…Anyechka,” she cajoles. “Next time you come to Baku, we’ll make you a whole huge Caspian fish stuffed with walnuts!”


But back to fisinjan. Let’s be honest. I am sure that the dish is delicious, but it does have a certain “been in the backyard under the deck for a week or two” look about it. That unfortunate aspect is admitted even by its champions (from Flavors of Baku)

Pilaf is the signature dish of Azerbaijani cuisine. It is usually served on special occasions and known in Azerbaijan as Ash or Plov.  Azerbaijani cuisine has dozens of different types of pilaf, one of the most delicious of which is Fisinjan Plov–a pilaf with chicken or meatballs, cooked in a sweet-and-sour sauce, made of crushed walnuts and Narsharab (pomegranate syrup/molasses). Fisinjan (or Fesenjan) is an ancient dish of Persian origins. It certainly isn’t one of the most beautiful dishes in Azerbaijani cuisine, in fact, some describe it as unappetizing looking dish, but you will change your mind as soon as you taste its delicate, rich, and flavorful sauce.

This photo says it all

Fisinjan Shakh Plov

I  like the phrase “… some describe it as unappetizing …”. I would fit safely into that category.

Perhaps this is the start of a thread in this blog —  dishes to write home about?  This comment about a Baku restaurant sets the stage

… Upstairs, there’s a club with a view of the Caspian Sea. Yes, you can drink, and you ought to. You’re in remote Azerbaijan, for goodness sake — celebrate!

God bless! And I am curious. What does a really well prepared fisinjan taste like?

If you are in the mood for more “meals to write home about”, you are in luck! Tony Bourdain has been offering these for years. And if you are looking for some entertainment with your Sunday coffee, you could do worse than watching Tony’s Tanzanian adventure. Tony at his snarkiest! His warthog butt makes fisinjan look like filet!


Celebrating Bulleri and Mongiardino

I find it inspiring that a man would devote his life to mastering the craft that he loved from childhood and find reward in that devotion. That would describe the life experience of Giacomo Bulleri, who left home at the age of 11 to find his way  from rural poverty to life in the city.

From Deborah Needleman’s enchanting NYT article

At the age of 11, clutching a tiny, tobacco-colored cardboard suitcase with the aroma of mushrooms clinging to it, Giacomo Bulleri left his home in the rural Tuscan village of Collodi and boarded a train to try to find work. His mother had neatly folded and packed his country clothes — not appropriate for a city but the only clothes he had — to send him off to a place neither parent had ever been. The sixth child of poor, hardworking farmers, Bulleri was sent to Turin, where, his parents had heard, there was “a need for swift legs and sharp eyes.” In the city, he found work as “a jack of all trades” in a restaurant, he says. It would be two years before he would return home or see his parents again. By then, he had changed.

I find it even more inspiring that a man like Bulleri could team up with another man who was as devoted to his craft as Bulleri was to the kitchen: Monjardino, the architect. The two have collaborated to provide Milan with unique dining settings. Here is one

Check out the article! It will make your day!