Christmas Vibes under the Andalucían Sun

One of the best things on our Christmas holiday in the South of Spain? Light. Light. Light. Sunlight. Sunrays. After a long period of moist darkness in Finland, my every cell was yearning for solar energy. And that’s exactly what we got. Plus, a bunch of unforgettable experiences.

We spent the yuletide in Andalucía. We flew to Malaga and spent the first half of our vacation at Costa del Sol and did day trips to Marbella, Malaga and Ronda. The second half we spent in historic Córdoba, the city with the mesmerizing Mezquita mosque. It has become almost a tradition for us to spend Christmas abroad. Not to escape Xmas, but rather to make the most of the holiday season and to spice it with a bit of adventure. We’ve had Christmas treats made from various internal organs in Guangzhou, hiked to a mountain with the giant bronze Buddha statue in Hong Kong and bathed in sunlight in Lisbon while enjoying the rich pasteis de nata pastries. And now South of Spain.

Must admit, I was just a little bit doubtful whether the easy and comfortable Costa del Sol life was for me, with the all-day British breakfasts and generous cocktail offers. But what really made me fall for multi-layered Andalucía was the incredible versatility.

Here are some of the memories that are most vivid in my mind right now: Having delicious white fish for lunch in a chiringuito on the beach in December, wearing summery clothing (!). By the way, one popular local treat is a sardine espeto (skewer), warm and fresh straight from the grill.


Patio de los Naranjos, the Mezquita, Córdoba

Taking countless pictures of tall palm trees (the new Christmas tree) and of orange trees which were ubiquitous. And listening to the mighty waves hit the shore on the beach promenade in Torremolinos when heading back from dinner.

Mercado Central Atarazanas, Malaga

Doing an evening stroll in Puerto Banus in Marbella, the Monaco of Southern Spain, admiring the big boats and yachts and marvelling at the imaginative and everything-but-affordable costumes the small dogs were dressed in.

Port in Benalmadena

The beautiful city of gorges, Ronda

Sipping delicious warm mint tea in an atmospheric tetería in Córdoba. And admiring the many atmospheric patios and inner courtyards of the city, with fountains, decorated balconies, the blooming poinsettia and cobblestoned floorings. For patio-afecionados like myself, in early May in Córdoba there is a festival Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba: in this “best patio” competition many of the beautiful patios are opened for the public and flamenco is played on various plazas around the city. By the way, Córdoba is among those cities in Spain in which I could happily see myself living, in addition to Bilbao, Oviedo and Madrid, without forgetting the little cava village Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

The exterior of the Mezquita, Córdoba

Back to Andalucía recollections. The food, the tapas, the wine and the dry sherry. The grilled chicken we got for lunch from the chicken kiosk Asador, El pollo dorado in Benalmadena Pueblo. The rich salmorejo (a puree made of tomatoes and bread), the oxtail, the morcilla black sausage and the various delicious treats of the sea, from navajas to different tasty types of white fish. Interestingly, we found many counterparts from the Spanish cuisine to traditional Finnish Christmas foods: Jamón ibérico for those who want to have their Christmas pork, arroz con leche – a sweet rice pudding (in Finland we have porridge), enjoyed cold. And Pedro Ximénez, a sweet and dark desert wine, a bit like the remote cousin of the Finnish rusinasoppa, raisin soup, which we enjoy with the rice porridge.

We got to see a lot, but so much remains to be explored: the Alhambra palace area in Granada with its vibes from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, discovering Sevilla more thoroughly and perhaps a skiing holiday at the peaks of Sierra Nevada. Maybe next Xmas. Hasta la próxima.

Trento, the Gem of Northern Italy

We know Milan, Venice, Verona and the beautiful and popular lake region. But now it’s time to look up north, to Südtirol: there by the Adige River lies a culinary, bubbly, architectural and historical concentration called Trento. This city mixes influences and vibes from both Italy and Austria. On our first night there it took me a bit of time to get used to the imposing dark shapes behind the Adige river – the mountains that guard the city. Hop on the Trento tour and decide for yourself whether to include this Trentino delight on your travel plan next summer!

So, what are the highlights of Trento? First, location, location and location. Trento is located 224 kilometres northeast of Milan and less than an hour car ride from Riva del Garda, the northern tip of Lake Garda. Many roads lead from Trento: whether you are into hiking, skiing, mountain biking or winery hopping, Trento’s vicinities and neighbouring areas offer countless possibilities. For example: the city of Merano and the mountain hiker’s dream peak Merano 2000 are less than an hour’s car ride away. Secondly, 70 kilometres from Trento begins the Alto Adige Wein Strasse where you can get acquainted with local grape varieties with all your senses.

The city of Bolzano, with its numerous tower houses is a good day trip destination.

Culinarism. Would you have guessed that Trento is a culinary hotspot? Well, on the other hand, we are in Italy, the land of culinary pleasures, where many of the best restaurants have their own risotto chefs (such a noble profession, by the way). But yes, be prepared to dine well in Trento. A few recommendations: Scrigno del Duomo at the Piazza del Duomo: their Gorgonzola risotto mesmerized me; Osteria Il Cappello (Piazzetta Bruno Lunelli 5): an elegant and cosy restaurant with an atmospheric terrace: their burrata is purely divine and I am not exaggerating here. Also, in Trento you can find many beer halls with garden terraces which serve delicious food for late diners like us. And, must not forget, our favourite lunch spot was Dal Marcante Specialitá Alimentari at Viale Adriano Olivetti: they serve a wide selection of local cheeses, salamis and wines. Local, fresh and delicious and a special thanks to the warm service.

Pair excellent food with first class wine. Let’s pop in at the Ferrari winery (Via del Ponte, 15). We had booked a tour and a tasting at Ferrari Trento in advance. The tour started with a 15-minute ad film about the winery (skilled but rather sentimental), its history and the owning family, followed by the tour and the tasting. The story and legend of the Ferrari winery began with a man called Giulio Ferrari in the beginning of 1900s. He had a vision and a passion of creating a wine which could compete with the high-quality French Champagnes. Ferrari himself did not have offspring so later he chose, after careful consideration, a wine shop keeper from Trento called Bruno Lunelli, to continue fulfilling his dream and vision of producing quality sparkling wine in the heart of Trentino. And now today, the third generation of the Lunelli family is leading the company. I propose we raise a virtual glass to Giulio, who once decided to plant Chardonnay in Italian soil and was persistent with his pioneering experiments. Salute!

Since a good holiday is about balance, it’s time to go for a run (perhaps on the following day of the winery visit). Up on the hill Doss Trento there is the Mausoleo di Cesare Battisti and running there and back from the city centre makes for an excellent morning workout. You’ll get a bird’s perspective on the city, a sweaty workout and some culture all in one, which is convenient. Next to this hill lies the a mountain, best reached by the Funivia (funicular) Trento-Sardagna. The latter is a pretty little village with several small vineyard patches.

If you happen to visit the place on a calm Sunday afternoon, everything except the bar/café by the cable car station will be closed but you can enjoy some refreshing cold water from the several water posts and admire at the illustrations on the facades of the houses. And after this healthy day walk, if you desire you can enjoy a glass of cold and sparkling Altemasi Trentodoc at the bistrot before heading back down.

What else? The MUSE, the Science Museum designed by the architect Renzo Piano (Corso del Lavoro e della Scienza 3) hosts many interactive exhibitions. Very popular with families and children and no wonder as there is a big experiential area for kids. Also, wandering on the streets and alleys of the city centre and admiring the many beautiful balconies, wooden window shutters and balcony flower blossom. My each trip to Italy equals tens if not hundreds of pictures of the aforementioned.

Grazie Trento, you were a sweet mixture of bubbles, Piazzas, historical vibes and the intoxicating scent of apple orchards.

I Amsterdam

I think it was in March when I said Darling, I signed up for the Amsterdam Marathon.

Exactly two weeks ago, on a sunny Sunday on October 15th was the day of the big race. The day when all those countless training hours and certain moments of positive stress were measured.

But, this is not a marathon report, though I might write one next. This is my compact tip guide to Amsterdam. So, hop onboard and let the canal tour begin.

There are cities I like (Reykjavik for example), cities I love for their intense beat (New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong) and cities where I can picture myself living one day (Berlin, Copenhagen and, as the latest discovery: Amsterdam). The atmospheric waterways, numerous flower shops and flower markets, the leaning old narrow buildings, broad biking lanes and the fact that everyone bikes everywhere. Amsterdam is a verdant city which exudes art and interesting vibes.

My favourite thing was strolling along the canals, both in the soft and peaceful afternoon light and in the evening time, before and after dinner. The many canals have had the task of keeping the city above water. Also, the windows in the gorgeous apartments right by the canals are so huge that one gets a little glimpse of the local décor trends.

After a long walk what would better hit the spot than some gin? Let’s head toward the gin distillery Wynand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31). It is a small tasting house established in 1679, serving jenever and liqueurs. There are guided tours with tastings during the weekends: a strong recommendation. We booked the tour online a few hours before it started and it was a fascinating experience. The host was superb, and we got to learn the stories behind many of the bottles: for example, there are drinks for all the phases of a love affair, from courtship to celebrating a new born baby.  In Dutch, by the way, pregnancy is referred to as Hansje in de Kelder. It is interesting to compare idioms in different languages.

The foodie in me rejoiced of the wide selection of Indonesian restaurants. A special recommendation goes to the rice table, Rijsttafel, at MAX Amsterdam (Herenstraat 14): the menu includes several Indonesian specialties, such as a spicy aubergine salad, a vegetable curry and seasoned seabass filet on a banana leaf. Yummy food in a warm atmosphere.

If you have time: visit De Hallen (Hannie Dankbaarpassage 47), a cultural concentration with a cinema, bike rental and repair store, fashion shops and a food market. The food hall offers flavours from dim sum to Lebanese and Vietnamese delicacies. The food was tasty and fresh but how the logistics were organized there could afford to be improved.

The last tip: the TSC Amsterdam Marathon. The route was scenic, the cheering was energetic and the weather in Mid-October was gorgeous with sunshine and around 25 degrees Celsius. There were even some families who had set up their own refuelling stands for the runners with bananas and water. And if you are not running and have a good three hours to yourself, head to the Van Gogh Museum. The doorman was arrogant, the masterpieces are purely impressive.