It has become a tradition on this blog to write one long post at the beginning of each year, about all the things I loved in the previous year, and I'm keeping with it. It is a lovely tradition. I am so excited with the idea of sharing things I love (things being a bit clumsy word for all the travels, music, artists, books, moments, foods) that it had occurred to me more than once doing it as a monthly post, but it hasn't happened yet. There is such a long list of past travel stories waiting to be told, photos waiting to be published. For now, let me share with you my favorite things and snippets from 2017.
I read blogs quite a lot. For inspiration, insights, photography, good writing, tipps, or just for fun. I remember when I first considered writing a blog and trying to figure out articles that would be interesting to readers, a dear friend of mine told me: "But you can write anything you want. It's your blog. That's the thing about blogs." (Pig, I'm looking at you here. :*) And the really good ones are inspirational, creative, insightful, luring you into the author's world.
I still read my favorite blogs that are Reading My Tea Leaves and Manger, and last year I also enjoyed reading Messy Nessy Chic, Ann Street Studio, Peonies and Polaroids, plus newly discovered Hello Sandwich.
Technically, Messy Nessy Chic grew out to be more than a blog, it's a website now with various contributors, but I still enjoy reading about quirky and abandoned places, unusual art, and Nessy's posts about invisible Paris. Visible, really, if you know where to look- and it's even more chic than Paris everyone's talking about. It made me put Paris to my travel wishlist, after years of considering it to be overly touristy to be a priority.
Ann Street Studio is a blog created by photographer Jamie Beck, an American that moved to Provence to reinvent her creativity (at least that's how I understand it). She shares lush still lifes, self-portraits largely influenced by paintings of the great masters, snaps of her life in France, and she writes short posts based on her travels and lifestyle. There is a lot of advertising there too, but I enjoy her photography.
Peonies and Polaroids is a very simple photography blog (simple as unfussy, with less attention given to the design of the page, and photography being the focal point). Cara's photography is clean, somewhat dreamy, especially in her nature shots. I love to head over for some inspiration.
Hello Sandwich is a blog that I literally discovered yesterday, thanks to my Japan-visit-planning-mania, and it has got to be the coolest blog around. Australian-Lithuanian artist Ebony Bizys is living in Japan, capturing her art and everyday life, with good photography and witty writing. Now excuse me while I spend the rest of the afternoon reading it.
I was confident that I have read more books last year than I did the year before. It was just a bit disappointing to find out I have actually read fewer books. Let's make it a new year's goal to read more! From the books I did read here are my favorites.
Luka gifted me with Carlo Levi's Fleeting Rome, given that I loved his Christ stopped at Eboli. Carlo Levi is a really skilled writer, knowledgeable, good with both words and ideas, precise in communicating those ideas. Fleeting Rome are short stories, or more like sketch stories from everyday life in Rome in the years following the Second World War. They are stories about Rome that is changing, fading away, or fleeting, giving way to modern times (like the story about flocks of sheep that used to pass the streets of Rome in the night, or about mass tourism that just started appearing in Rome, or about streets layout, that grew from organic, chaotic (and typical of Rome), to more organized big avenues and one way traffic.) I found some of those stories incredibly accurate, even 70 years later.
After watching Brooklyn, the movie (which I found very nicely done), I was curious about the book on which the movie is based. Even though the movie follows the basic storyline of the book, portraying of the characters and a bit sour note of the ending was quite different. I loved Colm Toibin's writing, simple and to the point.
I decided to read more books in Spanish, and Ana Maria Matute's book Primera Memoria was the first one I read last year. The protagonist is a girl, growing up during Spanish Civil War. The storyline follows her transition from childhood to adolescence during one summer, in which she very carefully observes all the details of her everyday, her family, her peers, cruel human relationships that surround her. I love Ana Maria Matute's style, clear, very observational, sometimes painful, sometimes funny.
Most of my favorite moments are travel related, and I write about them on my blog. But last year, we spent May and June at our home in Istria, exploring 'undiscovered' parts of Istria. It was a beautiful part of the year, relaxed, full of sun, flowers, drinks on the terrace, barbecues, and day trips. During that time, we discovered my favorite little town Draguc, and I wrote one dreamy post about it. Sitting on the terrace of an only bar in the town, drinking beer under the Istrian sun, soaking up the views of rolling hills and white clouds dotting the clearest skies is one of my favorite memories from last year. And if it all sounds too idyllic, it's just because it was.
Another day at home, I was watering flowers on the balcony when I noticed a movement from lower terrace to the garden. It was golden-brownish in color, quite big and fast, and at first, I thought it was a dog. When it stopped in the middle of the garden, I realized it was a roe deer! By this moment I should say that our house isn't situated in the woods, or at the edge of a village; we are surrounded by houses and very densely populated neighborhood in the spring/summer months. I have no idea how this elegant creature ended up in our garden, but we both rushed out to observe it and take a couple of photos. She was so delicate, and wieldy, jumping over our fence to the neighbor's yard, munching on grass and flowers from our garden. I hope we will see her again.
When we are staying in Premantura, there is no chance of missing a day trip or an evening in the port town of Rovinj, about 45 minutes drive from our home. We headed to Rovinj one late afternoon, we were in for some Italian gelato and an evening stroll. On our way, we spotted a glorious, red field of poppies, surrounded by olive groves. The sun was low, the air golden, the shadows long... one of those perfect pre-summer moments.
My favorite last year's recipes have got to be Luka's apple yoghurt cake that he baked a couple of times during spring and summer, Mimi Thorisson's garlic soup and Erin Boyle's pasta with brussel sprouts that I made a couple of times this fall, and marinated lentil salad that I discovered on Pinterest, our summer favorite.
For my Croatian readers, Luka found a recipe for this perfect summery cake here (international readers, sorry, it's in Croatian).
Everyone who tried this garlic soup loved it (that is me, Luka, and my parents:)). It's garlicky (and what can be better than that?), delicious and easy to make (if you don't mind peeling all that garlic).
I love brussels sprouts, but I don't eat them regularly because they mostly come in that nasty plastic box I tend to avoid. Comes fall and brussels sprouts on the market, I love to bake them in the oven with aceto balsamico or parmesan cheese, or make this mouth-watering pasta.
Lentil salad with onions, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese is a perfect summer dish, light, bursting with flavors and nutritious. Here is the recipe.
This year we also enjoyed Pavlova cake- basically Luka would bake two meringue parts and fill them with cream and strawberries. The taste of summer and so so beautiful!
Oh boy, did I found lovely things on Instagram last year. First I discovered shoe brand Lotta from Stockholm, producing beautiful clogs from wood and leather. I bought my first pair in the cognac color and lately braved to wish for red ones as a Christmas present from Luka. They came, and they look like candy. Can't wait for the spring to wear them. Did I mention they're super comfortable, look super cool and lift up any outfit?
Then linen clothing started appearing all over my feed, the nicest one being Not Perfect Linen. I ordered long sleeves dress in rich, charcoal color, and I was delighted. Even though it's a loose fit, it looks so elegant, the linen is soft and comfortable, it has unfussy, simple design and I feel special every time I wear it. I got my second dress from Not Perfect Linen as a Christmas present from my parents, a lovely summer dress in white and black squares, perfect when paired with above mentioned Lotta's. All clothing is handmade in Lithuania, sewed by your measures, beautifully packaged with a little thank you note and sample fabrics. Their customer service is outstandingly helpful and fast.
Browsing through Pinterest, a beautiful pair of delicate, flowery socks caught my eye. A couple of clicks later, I was going crazy over all the artsy patterns of Bonne Maison socks. Each collection is inspired by an artist, and I've never seen a waving so refined in a sock. Let's just say I own six pairs now, each one more beautiful than the other.
There were two things I wanted to do for a while, but due to our ever-moving lifestyle, wasn't able to dedicate myself to. Things changed this autumn when Luka and I both enrolled in an Italian language school and also pottery wheel class. We have a real chatty Italian for a teacher, and I think we are progressing fast, already being able to discuss cheese in our favorite cheese shop in Padova, to have ski lessons in Italian, to throw a joke or two. Small steps, etc.
Our pottery wheel teacher is a ceramic designer with a lovely little studio here in Zagreb. Before our first class, I thought we were going to learn the properties of clay and the techniques by listening to her lecture, instead, she threw us right into centering and throwing, and by the end of our sixth lesson, we made some real life pots, and lovely if I might add. Now we are continuing with our lessons.
Apart from writing down our travel memories on this blog, Luka and I decided to play a bit with making travel videos. It turned out to be a fun process, also hard work, but in the end, we had some good results. We are especially happy with the video we made about a couple of days spent on the Sicilian island of Marettimo. You can take a look here, and also subscribe if you like what we're doing.
If last year wasn't a book year for me, it was most certainly a movie year. We've watched so many, that I'm definitely forgetting some of the good ones. Nevertheless, here is the list:
A Ciambra- the movie follows a couple of days in life of a boy growing up in a gipsy society in the south of Italy. Largely influenced by his family and society, in both good and bad, his coming of age is neither easy nor does it leave him with much space for own decisions.
Big Night- a movie from the nineties, starring young Stanely Tucci and Minnie Driver, and loads and loads of delicious Italian food.
Tampopo- a Japanese movie following a couple of parallel stories, the main story being about a young women trying to perfect her ramen recipe and get more customers to her ramen shop. It's a quirky movie, we had some good laughs and also some food cravings.
Joyeux Noel- a movie set in the trenches of World War I, on Christmas Eve, when German, French and Scottish soldiers forget their 'differences' and connect on a human base just like humans sometimes do.
Hayao Miyazaki's films- since we visited Japan two years ago, Luka and I became enchanted with all things Japan. We loved each and every of Miyazaki's animated films we've watched (we haven't seen all of them yet), our favorites being My neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away. For those of you thinking we're talking about kid's cartoons here- we're not, those are beautiful films, only animated. Full of Japanese traditions, symbolism and spiritualism, always seeing something good in humans (there are no real villains in Miyazaki's films, he believes each person had a good and a bad side), often depicting human relationship with nature and technology. Watching his films clears my mind, and makes me feel inspired.
The Red Turtle- this animated film was produced by Miyazaki's Ghibli Studio and made by Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit (who visited Zagreb during Animafest, and we were lucky enough to attend his lecture and talk about the film). Let's just say it's a story about a man and his relationship with nature, with beautiful animation, that is true art in its own right (reminding me a lot of Japanese 19th-century woodprints).
Your Name- another Japanese animated film, made by Makoto Shinkai, telling a story about a girl and boy who somehow end up switching bodies, and communicating through messages in her diary and his phone. This might not be the best explanation, but it is a capturing film, immersed in Japanese tradition and its connection with modernity.
We always watch a lot of documentaries, mostly travel and nature related. In the last few years, we became more and more interested in environmental problems, especially plastic pollution. It went from reading about it, to watching documentaries, to organizing our life with the intention to minimize our impact (like returning from the market plastic-free, as pictured below. :)). The last couple of years have seen a number of great environmental documentaries, involving some of the well-respected names in journalism and biology. Some of my favorite environmental documentaries are:
Mission Blue, a film about the life of marine biologist Slyvia Earle, dedicated to exploration and protection of the oceans. Blue Planet I and II, BBC's series on marine life, beautifully captured and presented by the great Sir Dave Attenborough. The second season succeeded in raising awareness on plastic pollution, to the extent that British Parliament and Royal Family started addressing the issue. A Plastic Ocean is a film that familiarized the public with the existence of Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of microplastics formed in the Pacific.
Last month, internet introduced me to the wonderful world of British artist Rebbeca Louise Law. She makes flower installations you guys! Delicate, lush, ever-changing flower installations. I would love to see one (or all!) of her work in person.
The Internet also introduced me to miniature world of Barcelona based illustrator Mar Cerda. She makes miniature cutouts painted in watercolor technique, all so charming that you wish to pack your bags and move to one of her scenes. :)
A year of travel
This has definitely been a year of travel for us. In January we went skiing in ski area San Pellegrino in the Italian Dolomites, a region with some of the nicest mountain views. We spent the entire month of February in Berlin, curious about life in the big city. From there, we visited the towns of Regensburg, Potsdam, Ahrenshoop, and Frankfurt, each of them different, special in its own way. On our way back home in March, we visited again our friends in Luxembourg (we have to admit that Luxembourg grew close to our hearts. We even did a little tour of small Luxembourgish towns and villages).
At the end of April we flew to Bordeaux and the Medoc region. We have never been to France together, and it's nice to have a change of scenery from time to time. We explored the region like proper gourmands, living on baguettes and croissants, cheese and wine, strawberries, magrets de canard and tastiest little doughnuts filled with all sorts of jams. We loved Bordeaux architecture, the lively riverfront, little gourmand shops and bright sun that was shining upon us whole 5 days. My favorite memories from that trip include a day spent driving around Medoc wine region, stopping on every corner to take photos of endless chateaus, walking the wisteria adorned streets of little villages, having lunch in a lovely courtyard of Cafe Lavinal. Then, spending an afternoon on a food market by the river, eating chicken stew and flambeed prawns, drinking a bottle of wine on a bank with a riverview, enjoying the buzz of the promenade. Dancing and singing along on Calypso Rose concert (that was, after all, what we came for). And at the end, making new friends with our Airbnb hosts, a lovely family that came to visit us in Premantura at the end of October.
We spent May in Istria, at home, exploring parts of the region we haven't been to yet. The weather was just perfect for making day trips, the flowers in full bloom, crab, and asparagus season on. We would ride our bikes and have picnics on Cape Kamenjak without the crowds, cars and dust of July and August. We went to Rovinj a couple of times, to take a walk, to have the best ice cream in Istria. We finally drove the Parenzana cycling route, and we loved it! We visited the ruins of Dvigrad, sleepy town of Draguc, Zarecki Krov waterfalls and the water cascades of the village Kotli. May was just the perfect time to do it.
In June, we returned to Sicily. It was our honeymoon destination three years ago, and we wanted to revisit, another part of it this time. We followed the footsteps of chefs Jamie Oliver and Giorgio Locatelli to the western part of the island. Here, we spent a couple of days in Marsala (a golden-hued town that won us over), making day trips to Mazara del Vallo, Porto Palo and Trapani, then spent another three days on the island of Marettimo, our favorite destination of 2017, to end the trip in the hilltop town of Erice and port town of Castellammare del Golfo (eating very well along the way).
At the end of July, we went to Rome for a Yann Tiersen concert. It was a short but sweet Italian escape, where we first spent two days in the Tuscan town of Pienza, a Unesco World Heritage site, with wonderful views of undulating countryside. From Pienza, we made a day trip to the even smaller town of Bagno Vignoni, that has a pool instead of the main town square, and the best cold cuts with verdure sott'olio (vegetables in olive oil) you could wish for. A dreamy place, absolutely. In the area, there were also thermal springs, I read about them in Frances Mayes's book Under the Tuscan sun. Luka decided for Bagni di San Filippo, thermal springs that form cascade pools, each of them with different water temperature. You pick a free pool, and spend a couple of hours soaking in, surrounded by woods, putting therapeutic mud on your skin and then washing your self under a waterfall. One of the best days of 2017. We spent another two days in Rome, and while we loved the city, and especially the food, we didn't love July crowds. We decided to give Rome another chance by visiting off season next time. The concert was wonderful, under the stars, Yann Tiersen playing pieces from his last album, Eusa.
Comes August, we tend to escape the summer chaos of Istria, for relaxing a couple of days on the island of Cres. It has become sort of our tradition in the last few years- we put up our tent in the camp near Osor and spend most of our days lying in hammocks, reading, frying fish, swimming in the sea below the camp, hiking to the beaches of Ustrine and Lubenice, visiting the town of Cres to have the best shrimps in the world. This year we overdid our stay, finding it hard to leave such a simple, leisurely life.
In September we had Rolling Stones concert coming, and that in the Tuscan town of Lucca. We couldn't miss the chance of visiting Firenze, that was on our way, so we spent two days in each of the towns. We loved both of them, Firenze for its endless artistic treasures, great food, hip neighborhood of Oltrarno, the view of the town from Giardino Bardini, enjoyed with popsicles in our hands. We loved a pre-concert atmosphere in Lucca, Rolling Stones music coming from every corner, fans rolling down the streets. We also loved a post-concert atmosphere of everyday life in the small Italian town, buzzing with life, but peaceful at the same time. The old town of Lucca inside of the city walls is basically cars-free, streets circling around a main oval square built on the grounds of the former amphitheater.
Our last trip of 2017 was London in October. We had a full week to get to know the city, and we used our time quite well. There were foods to be tried, museums to be visited, neighborhoods to be browsed, parks to be marveled at, family and friends to spend time with, pubs to be frequented. We were all over the place, and as a result of our wanderings, I wrote a pretty comprehensive guide to London.
This year, we are going back to Japan. We helplessly fell for this marvel of a country two years ago, aching to go back ever since we left. And that is the only travel we had fixedly planned for the rest of 2018. If I could, I would revisit all the places we visited last year, but there are so many exciting places to discover. France is seriously on my mind (Toulouse, Lyon, Provence, Paris, I'll take anything), Torino and Piemonte region in Italy (food cravings etc.), the islands of Sardegna and Corsica (I expect them to be like Sicily, but not quite), European north... My travel wishlist is quite a long one, ever-growing, ever-changing. For now, I am really excited about Japan.
Now, I would love to hear about your favorite things from 2017, and also, do you have any recommendations on Japan-related books? That would be very much appreciated. :)