Mention Venice even in a casual conversation and more often than not you are bound to unleash a monolog of “when I was in Venice…” type. What if you have never been to Venice? What if you want to go and just cannot bear the thought of crowds and the cliches? Well, I got you covered. This past October I embarked on a solo 3 day visit to Venice, my first time to this city. Ryan Air had a great deal on a round trip ticket from Krakow, so off I went just with a carry on and my camera. Read through for my survival tips and personal approach to this amazing city, camera in hand, of course.
I arrived at Marco Polo Airport and took the Alilaguna public transportation – 1 hr 15 minutes water bus to the heart of the city. It is great for sightseeing at the same time, and not crowded as the regular vaporettos you will see later on the canal. Some of my favorite impromptu photos are from the arrival, which happened to be right as the sun was hitting the roofs along the Grand Canal. I did not see that beautiful golden light again for the remainder of my stay. Lesson one: don’t wait for later, when you are more rested/less hungry/already checked in to the hotel. The view from water level was amazing, and affordable! Lesson two: public transportation rules.
Hotels – I am afraid no good news here in terms of price, so I went for the second most important thing – safety and ease of getting there, especially when traveling solo. Easy access is a relative term in Venice, so lesson three: come prepared with old fashion maps and notes, and don’t just rely on your phone. I came armed with maps and essay long notes (and drawings!) on how to get to the hotel. I got to hotel Flora, and for the remainder two nights to its sister hotel Novecento, without a hitch. Availability can be tricky when only portion of your stay runs into the weekend.
Food in Venice can of course be overwhelming, there might be a language barrier, you might not feel comfortable sitting by yourself at a white linen table. Myself, I prefer more casual dining when traveling, which does not mean I am willing to eat pizza, especially when in Venice. I also prefer to eat the evening meal early. Venice has a perfect solution to this: cicheti (lesson four!). Small bites such as fish balls, calamari, boiled potatoes (I could live on those alone) are served at the counter and eaten standing or perched on a bar stool. Usually served until 8pm or so. Order a glass of Savignion Blanc or Verduzzo and relax into people watching. My two places for cicheti were Trattoria E Bacaro da Fiore and Da Zemei near Rialto.
Venice is very walkable and less crowded especially before 8am, so head to Rialto Market on foot. I spent some time there just watching the food scene unfold. The seafood selection especially the local Nostrana type, is hard to absorb! Side street also hide some down to earth, but fantastic bakeries.
I steered clear of San Marco, except for an early morning outing, even though my hotels were there. I spent my walking energy on getting away from crowds, mostly in back corners of Dorsaduro, but also in San Polo. Dorsaduro is where I saw the most of ordinary, but charming Venetian life, with its Piazza Santa Maria and tucked away small shops and businesses. San Polo is where I stared at a marvel of a church I Frari and its masterpiece Asunta. Lesson five: churches have amazing art collections and tickets are very affordable as compared to museums. Time your visit right and you have a unique and very personal experience, away from the crowds.
There are is so much to see and feel in Venice, and so much pressure to check places, restaurants, and events off the list, to compare to what others did. But dare to create your own must see list, challenge your own expectations, find your silver lining, go ahead and document the details only you noticed, and others just rushed by…
Sometimes all it takes is few morning hours to restore the creative life spark. Welcome to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I have been long saying that this neighborhood of Brooklyn has the same eclectic mix as the Shoreditch, London, or my own Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am also happily adding Grünerløkka, Oslo to this category as of October this year. See two posts earlier why!
It is still mind boggling to me, how few stops on the L train and you end up in a neighborhood that is such a far cry from Manhattan. I made my base at the Wythe Hotel, just to check out the decor, but also for its iconic restaurant Reynard. I am very much of a morning person, so the charms of the 6th floor hotel bar, however lovely, due to the sweeping views of Manhattan on the other side of the river, were lost to me. But 7am at Reynard, that’s another story…Come along.
Bedford Ave. is the main thoroughfare of the neighborhood that hides gems like Catbird, my go to jewellery store, or Sweet Chick, for some solid food. Then, there are countless bakeries, coffee shops, vintage shops, for every taste. Toby’s Estate and Blue Bottle are just some of them. Views from the waterfront are a bonus, well worth spending time and soaking it all in, even on the rather chilly December morning.
The unassuming and humble materials for the table decor are all around us, even in the city. The sidewalk, the frozen over container vegetable garden, community garden, few supermarket chrysanthemums, usually dismissed in favor of flashier roses. This year, having just returned from the trip to the southern Poland, my inspiration was hiding in the photos.
Dried basil branches are standing in for the dreamy grasses, but bring the same earthiness and whimsy to the table, and the fragrance is just a bonus. I like the tone-on-tone assembly of linen tablecloth and napkins made from the same batch of fabric. This is just a quick afternoon project, that really pays off, visually. Color orange still makes the appearance, but as a subtle detail and reminds me of my favorite Polish woodland find in October – mushrooms called rydze.
The Thanksgiving table setting will be evolving until the last minute this year, because this is my favorite kind of storytelling…
We headed to Oslo early October, hoping for some seasonal weather and trying not to utter the word “snow” to each other. The city, that I have not seen since my student days, and that was completely new to Carl, did not disappoint. As always, I steered us clear of the touristy, or just simply predictable (sorry, no Viking Museum this time) and booked us in a hotel in Grünerløkka part of town. Adapted old industrial district, with a bohemian flair, with parks and small town feel main squares (reminded me of Poland a bit), it stole my heart instantly. The city is perfectly walkable, it took only 20 minutes to reach the hotel on foot from the main train station, which is connected to the airport by a fast and frequent train. And then it all begun, just on the other side of the small but raging river (where else do you get waterfalls and white water in the middle of the city, if not in Norway), lay the coffee paradise: Tim Wendelboe.
We walked around the block before we located the tiny and unassuming coffee shop, but once you step inside, it has almost electrifying intensity. I happily delegated the coffee ordering choices to Carl, and focused on taking photos, watching him chat with baristas, compare notes on gear, techniques and generally soak up the convivial, yet very focused atmosphere. We returned here 3 times…
That afternoon, wandering further through our neighborhood, we discovered super friendly, and beautifully stocked, bike shop Krankenhaus. We left with staff recommendations for places to see and places to eat (record shops are usually a given!). It turned out, that what became one of my favorite spots on Oslo, was on the hill on the other side of our hotel. A little road called Telthusbakken, was captured in Edward Munch’s painting in 1880 (still visible those days from his apartment across the river, just down the road from Tim Wendelboe. Quite steep and lined with wooden houses (some with matching roses still in bloom), let to even more magic. As if one painting was opening the door to another setting, like theatre. The area is called St. Haushaugen, and if you climb the winding paths in the park to the top, there is a splendid sunset view and the shimmering waters of the Oslo fjord.
It is impossible to ignore the Oslo Opera house and the modern architecture around, but if you carefully craft your itinerary, you will end up in the historic medieval part of town (although with a modern backdrop), mostly well preserved ruins, but enough to get the imagination going exploring stories of kings, Vikings, and the medieval drama: St. Clemens’ Church and St Hallvard’s Cathedral. Much better than any museum!
Before I sing my praises of our hotel, Scandic Vulkan, let me make it clear that this is not a sponsored post! I just truly enjoyed the stay here, and I find it to be an incredible value for money. So was the hotel breakfast with freshly baked bread from Handwerk Oslo next door, and the best natural wood table (those photo backgrounds!).
As always, there were things and places I wish I had more time to do and visit. One purely magical moment occurred when emerging from yet another “almost got lost” escapade (my favorite), we turned the corner and run into Jannicke Krakvik in front of her (old location) store, locking it up, actually. In a split second I remembered the article I carefully tore out of the NYT Magazine this spring about Kollekted by Frama. You can read the article here.
Truly one of those “it was mean to be moments”, so when she returned momentarily to the store, I mustered all my courage to say hello and introduce myself and say how much I admired her and Alessandro’s design style and the business. I missed the opening of the new location by just one day, it turned out. So I must return one day to Grünerløkka to visit the new location of one of the most inspiring businesses these days.
Every year around third week of August the reality of summer ending soon seems to arrive with a bit of anxiety. How many times did we go camping this year? How many times did we go to the beach? While I can let the beach go, camping – not so much. For the single fact that I find no good substitute for an old fashioned campfire. In New England, we head north to the White Mountains National Forest. I hesitated to give away our favorite spot, but here it is: Russell Pond. Over years, and through experience, we made a decision to stay only in National Forest campgrounds, and not private, commercial campgrounds. This year, on a last weekend of August (even though the temperatures were positively screaming fall with 46F degrees at night), we headed north with barely any preparations. It was a mad dash out of town on a Friday afternoon, by the time we finished to stake the tent, it was dark. And there were stars everywhere, and 3 bundles of wood…
The next day’s hike was carefully tailored to the fact that I wanted maximum time cooking at the campsite. So off we hiked to Lonesome Lake, thinking we were in just for the views, but it turned out to be a ‘culinary experience’, too. Lonesome Lake hut is a stop on Appalachian Trail, staffed by AMC volunteers and served a fantastic fare for a modest price. Hence two bowls of the best spicy lentil soup for us. We circled around the bakery table, but resisted.
Back at the campground, it was time to soak the corn, dice the tomatoes we brought in from our own backyard, and the basil. This simple pasta dish lends itself perfectly to cooking by the campfire. We always carry camping stove to boil the water quickly for pasta or coffee, but the rest of the magic happens over the wood fire. Yes, I brought my own parmesan cheese, too. Suddenly, we were glamping…Some of us were even heating up Chinese takeout spicy fish and rice, but that will remain a secret.
For the longest time I could not make this desert ‘properly’, not because of its complicated recipe, or ingredient list, but simply because I did not have the right vessel for it. Custard glass cups from the supermarket just would not do it. My lucky break came earlier this summer at a small yard sale north of the city. I instantly scooped up a set of four. They remind me of much larger ones we had always used for desserts in my family. They still sit on the upper shelves in my parents’ pantry in my hometown in Poland. They don’t make appearance all that often now, everyone seems to gravitate to either ice cream or cake these days at the family gathering. But my heart is firmly with this simple jello dessert of my childhood.
The key is to use the ripest fruit that gets submerged and set in jello – raspberries and wild strawberries work particularly well. Once set for a couple of hours in refrigerator, out comes the topping. This should be done just before serving. No real rules here. I tend to add a dollop or two of homemade whip cream, shaved bitter chocolate, sometimes chopped hazelnuts, and always more fruit. Childhood treat that pleases children and adults alike!
Traveling through North Zealand part of Denmark felt like discovering one of the biggest secrets of Instagram. So this is how people get to take these perfectly moody blue/gray photos! Of course, before Instagram this was called the painters’ light, as my Danish friend Sussi reminded me when we pulled up to a particularly stunning vista.
Our day started in Hundested, a small, coastal town northwest of Copenhagen. Then, onto Torup, and heading towards the sea, I encountered my first Danish fairytale village. It was 10 in the morning, as we meandered through the village’s country lanes, only greeted by a lone dog walker. No cars, no crowds, the only commotion caused by chickens running through the veggie patches.
The coast was getting steeper and wilder as we headed towards Tisvildeleje strand. It was a windy day in May, but you could imagine the summer folk flocking to the area’s as far as the eye can see beaches, framed by sand dunes.
Soon, it was time for a bakery stop. A sourdough, a pumpernickel, and a meringue later, we were ready to find a lunch spot. I could not help noticing that even the store facades sport the blue -gray paint, as if to match the sky.
Our break came in Hornbaek, where we found a retro cafe inside a second hand shop Albi’s Kaffebar. The owner graciously allowed me to roam the floor and photograph while we waited for coffee and homemade cookies. We took them outside to the garden, and joined a laid back gathering of other guests.
Inevitably, there were castles in our way. First, Fredensborg Castle, Queen’s summer residence with a splendid location atop of a hill. The afternoon was sleepy and buzzing with almost summer heat, we looked at a long walk through the perfectly tree-lined alley, and talked ourselves out of it. After all, there was another castle in our path. On cue, came along Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod. Exuberantly baroque, with its own moat, a lake, and a formal garden, the castle now houses a museum. I was mesmerized by the courtyard fountains and took to photographing them. I first learned the technique last year in Trastevere, Rome from Signe Bay. Here, finally there was a fountain worth the challenge! The light, the sparkle of the water, the sheer size of them. And then, just me and my 50mm lens, not so easy.
Just like all roads lead to Rome for some, all roads lead to backyards for me, it seems. Sussi and I set out to prepare a morning breakfast scene the next day to style and photograph some of her upcoming block printed linen collection. We held off as long as we could, before finally diving into our lovely morning scene of coffee and some of the local bread. The website for the linen is coming soon, I will be sure to update this post! Stay tuned.
Lets’ continue our summer backyard entertaining series, shall we? By the time the 2nd pick-your-own strawberries adventure happened this June, we were already through strawberry dessert, strawberry pierogies, and generally eating strawberries and (and cream!) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was time for some experiments to get through the rest. Looking at a huge basil plant in the back yard with its glossy, bright green leaves, an idea hatched. I remembered that I have seen a recipe for a strawberry and basil lemonade with bourbon, another ingredient from clean-your-pantry-shelf list. The loosely adapted recipe follows.
Start with ripe strawberries, and I promise, it will work, everything else is just a matter of personal taste, more sweet or more tart…or more bourbon!
For about 3 drinks (I used small jam jars) I used:
- About 1/2 pound strawberries with green tops removed
- 2/3 cup sugar
- juice from one lemon
- 6 basil leaves, chopped and lightly smashed with a wooden spoon
- 3 oz of bourbon, depending on taste
Puree strawberries in a blender with a bit of water, add a cup of water and heat on the stove until puree boils, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Cool completely. Strain through a mesh sieve (do not discard solids, more on this later!) Chill sirup for at least an hour. In a pitcher, combine syrup, ice water, lemon juice, and basil. Stir. Serve over ice decorated with basil sprig, blooming, if you have it!
As for the solids saved from the puree, I find it irresistible as a sauce for french toasts, used instead of maple syrup. Assuming the strawberries were ripe, you cannot go wrong. Just save little of the puree to dilute, if needed. Would be as good on crepes, too!
Once a year, when the strawberry season is in full swing, we head to Cape Ann in Massachusetts, to our favorite pick-your-own farm. I confess, I only eat strawberries when in season, and when I pick them myself. The entire experience can sustain me for a year. I get the fix of all things strawberry by making the seasonal treats that childhood memories are made of: strawberry pierogies, strawberry sirup for winter tea, and this Polish dessert. Recipe below.
3 tablespoon flour
300g powdered sugar
250g unsalted butter
very ripe strawberries
2 packages ladyfinger cookies
Boil milk and completely cool. Beat eggs with flour and bit of milk. Place milk back on the stove and on low/med heat, pour the egg mixture slowly into milk, constantly stirring, until it boils. Let it cool completely.
Beat butter with powdered sugar in a mixer, and start adding, one spoon at a time, the cooled off egg mixture. Again, let it cool.
Arrange ladyfinger cookies on the bottom and sides of a springform, trimming as needed to fill the smaller gaps. I trim the ends of the side pieces by about and inch, so they stand up easy and evenly. Start filling the springform with above cream and strawberry layers. Decorate with strawberries. Chill for at least two hours to set initially, but it is best enjoyed at room temperature.
The story starts in a restaurant with a drawing of a greenhouse in its logo. Instantly smitten, right? I went to Väkst (Danish for ‘growth’) with my Danish friend Sussi to celebrate my birthday. I was not taking any chances. Only few hours after arriving in Copenhagen, I stood at the door right at the opening time, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and giddy with anticipation. Since we were so early, I was able to take photos before the place filled up. But when the food started arriving, I put my camera down to enjoy the red sorrel until the last tiny leaf, and the sourdough bread until the last crumb…And that was just the beginning.
I “maximized” my time in Copenhagen by booking the hotel in the same building, Hotel SP34. It was at the top of my list for a while now, I have seen countless photos on blogs and it did not disappoint. Comfy lobby with a daily wine hour, and a quiet room with great reading light and leather head rest (swoon!) and city views. I just kept recording the Danish bicycle rush hour for Carl on my iPhone!
There was no time for jet lag. Mornings were spent at the bakery 5 minutes from the hotel, Sankt Peders Bageri. A small cappuccino and a raisin brioche bun, with unlimited people watching (and photo taking!) made for great mornings. They also serve lunch sandwiches to go – salmon and cottage cheese was superb.
The neighborhood is great for exploring on foot. Churches with moody courtyards (Sankt Petri), the Copenhagen Cathedral with its restrained but beautiful ceiling, small cafes and then there is Christiansborg, which happens to be the setting for Borgen. Pardon my TV reference here, but this is the only series we ever nearly binge watched and which briefly made me consider learning Danish. Not to mention, I am still searching for the handbag like the one Birgitte Nyborg had in the last season.
Just few minutes walk from the hotel in the opposite direction is Torvehallerne Market, where flowers and coffee were unquestionable delight…
If you have your walking shoes on, head to Nørrebro. My favorite street was Jaegersborggade, filled with small stores, coffee shops, and plenty of space for an afternoon break among the loveliest of the green spaces filled with history – Assistens Cemetery – just around the corner.
My Copenhagen story comes full circle and it ends, for now at least, where it started many years ago. As a child, growing up in Poland, I was given my own illustrated copy of H.C. Andersen’s fairytales. 3 tome collection, which I read over and over. One story, with all consuming drama of a skull in a flower pot and a fragrant jasmine, stayed in my imagination, but I could not recall the title. Just after Copenhagen, I visited my family and my childhood home, and after re-reading several of the stories I came across the one I was searching for. The Rose Elf.