Back from Istanbul (and back to blogging)


After Istanbul, like after all of my travelling, I’ve come back with a better perpective on life and on London. As much as I love this city, it is even more obvious that, in London, there is a coldness and a distance between people.

I am writing this as I am sitting on the Bakerloo line to meet a friend in Little Venice. People do not look at each other, but not just on the tube…everywhere. On the street, at work, in the pub… The main question that comes to mind is ‘why’? …Do people feel that looking at someone else might be perceived as rude or invasive (the most common explanation my London friends have given to me when I expressed my thoughts on this issue)? That would be strange, though, considering it’s such a multi cultural city. Could it be that people feel scared of what they might see if they look up? Or do they simply not feel the need to do so?

If that is so, then how is it possible? Curiosity is intrinsec to human nature, just like interaction with fellow human beings. Some cultures, as it seemed to be the case in Turkey and in Italy (my home country), take it at times to the opposite extreme, and people are often showing their ‘curiosity’ so much to become invasive and irritating.

Surely a balanced compromise must be possible. Interest in other people is not only legitimate but necessary and healthy! It keeps us connected to the world around us and it makes us a part of it. A friend was recently commenting on how she’d never notice a good looking man whilst on her way to work, as her focus is entirely on the day and tasks ahead. She said that to explain why she thinks people in London appear ‘distant’ to me.

There are surely times when I’m oblivious to others if I’m lost in my own thoughts. But I don’t think I am generally capable of involuntarily blanking out people around me. In fact, when I’m thinking about something, I project my thoughts on the people around me and imagine what they would do, what they might think. It sort of helps me to get a perspective on things. I like feeling aware of my surroundings and this includes wondering where the lady sitting next to me, who’s wearing a thick black fur coat, might be going to ..or what the slim blond girl sitting opposite to me might be reading whilst tapping her new Converse shoes.

Yet when I look up at her purposefully, we never meet eyes. Wait! Something funny has just happened: just as I was writing this last comment, I looked up quickly and – yes! – the blond girl was looking at me and smiling! Maybe she thought I was weird, or maybe she thought that it was nice for another person on the tube to notice her existance and show interest in what she was doing.

My purpose was to challenge her sense of curiosity. Surely, when two strangers meet eyes, it means that some healthy curiosity for other people must still be there!

Below is a small selection of photos from Istanbul (a beautiful city). Enjoy & I promise my next blog post won’t be in six months!

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Sultanahmet Parki

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Sultanahmet Parki, view over the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

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Monkeys in a cage on a pavement in Gedikpasa Caddesi (Sultanahmet District)

ImageSunset from Topkapi Palace

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Topkapi Palace, inside the Hammam

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The Koran, Book Bazaar (Bazaar District)

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A wall in Yerebatan Kaddesi

The Shard 2012: the Opening


The opening of The Shard, Europe’s tallest building, in London: 6 July 2012. I took the pictures from the northern riverside near Monument Station and nearby.

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From the Guardian, 23 facts about the Shard:

 

• The Shard is 309.6 metres (1,016ft) high.

• The building reached its top height on 19 June.

• It has 11,000 glass panels.

• The area of the glass façade is 56,000 sq metres (602,779 sq ft), which equals eight football pitches.

• There are 44 lifts, including double-decker lifts.

• There are 306 flights of stairs.

• The total floor space is 11 hectares (27 acres).

• 95% of the construction materials are recycled.

• 20% of the steelwork is from recycled sources.

• The design was influenced by the irregular nature of the site.

• Each facet forms a shard, a plane of glass gently inclined inwards, rising towards the top.

• The corners of the development are open and the shards do not touch, allowing the building to “breathe”.

• There are 72 habitable floors.

• A further 15 levels will make up the “spire”. Six have the potential to be used, while another nine are exposed to the elements.

• The ground-floor Shard Plaza will be a public area with seating and planting.

• The second floor will be a 460 sq metre retail space with retail units opening out onto the concourse of London Bridge Station.

• The fourth to 28th floors will have 55,000 sq metres of offices and winter gardens.

• The 31st to 33rd floors will have 2,700 sq metres of international restaurants, centred on a triple-height atrium.

• The 34th to 52nd floors will house the Shangri-La Hotel and Spa, with 200 luxuriously appointed rooms across 18,000 sq metres.

• The 53rd to 65th floors will have 10 exclusive residences with 360-degree views across London over a total of 5,800 sq metres.

• The 68th to 72nd floors will be the public observation galleries. The 1,400-sq-metre View from the Shard will open in February 2013.

• The Shard is the tallest building in Europe.

• It is the 59th tallest building in the world, around 2.7 times shorter than the tallest, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is 252.4 metres high.

Identikit of an Italian Tourist


[Thoughts of an Italian Londoner on Italian tourists.]

I came back to London a few days ago, after a short break in Italy.

On the Ryanair flight, which, as usual, welcomed passengers on board with Vivaldi’s Spring (a melody that Ryanair has almost succeeded in making me hate!), I found myself once again sitting amongst a group of Italian ‘teenagers’ certainly beyond their 30s, acting like kids on their first holiday adventure with friends.

I always find it’s great fun to stealthily listen to conversations, except when the volume is so high that I am able to distinctly understand each word from the opposite end of the plane. Usually the conversations of Italian tourists on their way to London relate to ongoing themes:

  • Where to go…obligatory stop offs (according to the Italian tourist) are Piccadilly, Westminster, Tower of London. Other locations which are at least as much, if not more interesting, seem to go unnoticed.
  • How will it be possible to communicate with a school-level English? “Oh it won’t be a problem, it’s full of Italians over there”, “At school I had 8/10 in English!”, “I can even say swearwords, what else do we need?”
  • The weather…”do you think it will be raining?”, “the weather forecast is not that bad”, “have you got an umbrella?”
  • I might decide to move to London! Any advice? Ideas?

I find the latter topic particularly fun, because that is where urban myths and legends are big hits. Colourful stories are filled with improbably anecdotes told by those ‘who have the experience’ and are teaching others, who experience something in between fascination and perplexity. For example, on the Terravision bus from Stansted, a guy was telling his amazing story of London-life to another guy he’d just met (who appeared enthusiastic, up to the point when a house shared with other 6 foreigners, several mice and located in an ill-famed neighbourhood made their appearance in the story).

When the Terravision bus (company itself managed by Italians!) reached Liverpool Street, I was almost sorry to get off and abandon this microcosm of Italians abroad. But I didn’t need to wait long to find it again: it was sufficient to pop into Waitrose for my pre-New Year’s Eve shopping to discover that the stationary group in the cheese section, could only be a group of Italians abroad!

[My article was first published in Italian at http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/identikit-di-un-turista-italiano/  and I subsequently translated it into English. Unfortunately, many Italian expressions could not be translated into English with the same efficacy, but hopefully the translation conveys overall the same effect as the original one.]

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Identikit di un turista italiano

[Pensieri di un’italiana londinese su turisti italiani / Thoughts of an Italian Londoner on Italian tourists.]

Sono tornata a Londra da pochi giorni, dopo una breve pausa in Italia.

Sul volo Ryanair, che come al solito incomincia con La Primavera di Vivaldi (melodia che Ryanair è riuscita a farmi quasi odiare!), mi sono ancora una volta trovata seduta tra gruppi di ‘ragazzoni’ italiani di età certamente superiore ai 30, con l’aria di chi è alla sua prima avventura vacanziera con gli amici.

Mi diverto sempre moltissimo ad ascoltare di soppiatto le conversazioni, eccetto quando il volume è tale che riesco a sentire cosa viene detto dalla parte opposta dell’aereo. Solitamente le conversazioni dei turisti italiani che vanno a Londra riguardano alcuni temi fissi:

  • Dove andare…tappe obbligate (secondo il turista italiano) sono Piccadilly, Westminster, Tower of London. Altre mete altrettanto, se non più interessanti, passano inosservate.
  • Come si riuscirà a comunicare con un inglese scolastico? ‘Ma si ma lì è pieno di italiani’, ‘avevo 8 di inglese alle superiori!’, ‘so anche dire le parolacce, siamo a posto!’
  • Il clima… ‘ma secondo te pioverà?’ ‘ma le previsioni non sono così brutte’ ‘ma l’ombrello ce l’hai?’
  • Quasi quasi mi trasferisco a Londra! Hai consigli ? Idee?

Quest’ultimo tema fisso mi diverte particolarmente, perchè qui nascono le leggende metropolitane e storie mai sentite sembrano colorire racconti da chi ‘ha l’esperienza’ e che istruisce altri, che rimangono affascinati e perplessi. Ad esempio, sull’autobus Terravision da Stansted, un ragazzo raccontava la sua storia fantastica di vita londinese ad un coetaneo appena conosciuto (che sembrava entusiasta, finchè nel racconto non è comparsa una casa condivisa con altri 6 ragazzi stranieri, con topi, e in un quartiere malfamato!).

Quando l’autobus Terravision (gestito pure da italiani!), è arrivato a Liverpool Street, quasi mi dispiaceva scendere e abbandonare questo microcosmo di “italiani in trasferta.” Ma non ho dovuto aspettare a lungo prima di ritrovarlo: mi è bastato andare a fare la spesa di Capodanno da Waitrose per scoprire che il gruppo fermo a discutere nella corsia dei formaggi, non poteva che essere un gruppo di “italiani in trasferta”!


My First Guest Post!


Today, my first guest post on another blog has been published!

Unfortunately, I only had the time to write the article in Italian but I will post a translation here as soon as possible, so keep your eyes on this space. The topic is how Italians behave when they’re travelling (“Identikit di un turista italiano”).

Here’s the link:

http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/identikit-di-un-turista-italiano/

Enjoy!

UPDATE: English Translation of the article now available at https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/identikit-of-an-italian-tourist/

I Found a Key


Autumn in London always carries a magical, theatrical atmosphere with it. The unusually warm months of September and October are now sliding away and Guy Fawkes’ fireworks and a mild fog are announcing the first days of cold.

The anti-capitalists’ tents are still outside of St Paul’s, although there are rumours that many are empty at night. The theatrical feel that I get of London is a constant theme from the smallest streets to Buckingham Palace. It goes from fascinating to creepy.

Covent Garden, with its street artists and spectacular displays of lights and themed art installations, is an open-air stage. Yet it is not rare to see homeless people grotesquely sleeping under a pile of dirty blankets right on the side of glittery high street shop displaying piles of fancy clothes and shoes. Their shivering bodies illuminated and defined by white neon lights from the shop windows; make the cold penetrate even more deeply inside me.

My favourite theatre seats in London are the front seats on the top floor of double-decker bus. Not the London Eye or the Oxo Tower. They only give you a limited perception of London’s grandeur. But from the bus seats, you see everything, including what you wish you could not see. The young businessmen are happily enjoying their pints at the pub while an old beggar is sipping his beer can just around the corner. You see a beautiful woman covered in pearls and diamonds walking besides a pale guy kneeling down, while looking for some food or drugs in the waste bags along the pavement.

And London is all that, breathtaking beauty and unbearable dismay. Modernity and decadence. Ostentation and poverty. The fireworks are crackling and illuminating the sky with various tones of pink, green and red as people are getting on their tip toes in Theobald’s Road to see Gray’s Inn spectacular display. They only last for a few minutes, but those minutes are the theatre play for the night.

Tonight, as I got home after the fireworks, I was tidying up my room. Suddenly, my eye caught a glimpse of something shining on my carpet. I moved my desk chair, and there it was: a key. A tiny key, just about the size of a bean. I have no idea of how it got there and why, but I know it looks like the magic of London has unexpectedly entered my room on this cold night of Guy Fawkes.

Bubbleology: the theory of tea-volution


(picture from Bubbleology’s website)

When my friend first suggested to meet to drink bubbletea in Soho, I imagined a drink tasting of marsh mellows or chewing gums.  I admit: I wasn’t feeling too excited about it. As we walked to the shop, we saw a long queue of people waiting outside or meeting in front of the shop. Interesting. The shop didn’t look like a coffee shop or a tea shop at all: rather, like a chemist’s lab. And there we were: right in the middle of Bubbleology! A new theory of Tea-volution!

(picture taken by me in the London Soho shop)

The queue was long, we had to make our order. But what were we supposed to order?? It took me a while to understand how it works, as I read through the ‘lab instructions’ on the wall above the counter. So, first you choose if you want a milky or a fruity tea, then you decide the size, and if you want to add something or mix more than one flavour. Confusing. I went for Coconut Regular Bubbletea. Would it be hot or cold? No idea! Turns out you can have it both ways but if you don’t ask they will make you a cold one. I got my ‘Regular’ that looked much bigger than normal, was given a huge straw and on the bottom of my drink I could see…BUBBLES!

As I drank it, I couldn’t figure out what I thought about it. First reaction: weird! Second reaction: it takes like milkshake but much lighter! Final reaction: WOW!

OK, apparently I’m slow at finding out new trends because apparently a lot of people have tried Bubbletea before in Soho in the Chinese shops or Taiwanese shops. Yet I was still puzzled by the bubbles which I could eat through my straw and were really chewy and some of them would burst releasing fruitjuice! Amazing! I felt like a kid! I was not able to finish my drink as it was way too big and probably too cold. While we were wondering what the bubbles were made of, a young-looking man sitting next to us working on his PC spoke to us and explained that the bubbles were made from potato starch! We were surprised about his knowledge on the subject, and he turned out to be the owner and founder of the shop – Assad Khan – a UK businessman, who was fed up of working for a bank in New York and came up with this great business idea. He’s opened two shops in London so far, one in Soho and the other in Knightsbridge and he’s about to open at least 3 by the end of 2011 (so he told us).

If you want to read more about Bubbleology:

http://www.bubbleology.co.uk/about.php

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/24/bubble-tea-comes-to-britain

Want to listen to some new music while sipping your bubbletea? Try listening to Luca DG, a friend of mine with whom I tried Bubbletea! He’s an emerging Italian singer living in London – amazing voice! 😉

http://www.myspace.com/lucadg

Feel the London Vibe


You know your plane is landing in London when outside the tiny window you see pouring rain and a marvellously green landscape. Just about the time to wait for your suitcase, change into something warmer that you notice a few shy rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds.

 

You take a seat on the tube and no one appears to notice the girl with green hair who’s forgotten to wear a skirt. Nor is anyone bothered by the man taking up two seats due to his extra-huge size.  The newspaper read by the lady next to me reports in details the remarkably wrongful behaviour of two policemen who parked on a double yellow line to shop in Tesco’s. In Italy, this news wouldn’t even feature in a minor last-page column.

 

As you step outside, the wind makes any efforts to comb your hair entirely useless but gives you wings to walk. You soon smell food from the local Thai restaurant which blends in with the smell of McDonalds’. If you don’t like it, don’t worry because just round the corner you’re in Italy or, if you prefer, in France. But make sure not to hesitate while walking or you’ll literally get run over by crowds of people.

 

As you make your way through the crowds, you get a first glimpse of the vast green areas. Just a few steps, and you’ve stepped into the countryside – now you can just relax lying down on the greenest, cleanest and softest grass.