My first trip to Prague was at the end of summer 1995. At that time, the “Velvet Revolution” and the end of the Iron Curtain freshly delivered the Czech capital back to Western Europe but you could still notice some reminiscences of the recent Communist past: the cobblestone streets near the Old Town Square were still peppered with marketplaces selling old soviet memorabilia, many historic buildings were still blackened by carbon air pollution, you could still spot a fairly good amount of automotive socialist icons like Trabant or old Skoda cars in the streets and not so many tourists yet around.
Incredibly blessed by an unusual warm sunny weather, my 6-day journey through Belgium let me fully enjoy its vibrant capital and its two most known tourist destinations: Ghent and Bruges. Though definitely highly multicultural, I found Brussels also unexpectedly shabby if not even dirty through most of the places and streets I have been to. Its gorgeous Grand Place, the Brussels’ historic centrepiece and one of the most impressive squares in the old continent, was another story anyway.
I spent two full days in Switzerland riding both famous Bernina Express and Albula red trains up and down through the amazing frozen and snowy landscapes of Upper Engadine, valley. The small red trains cross some beautiful narrow valleys, dramatic old stone railway viaducts, tiny small alpine villages, amazing glaciers and silent forests in a long and harmonious journey through this wonderland named Switzerland. I started the train journey in St. Moritz, queen of the Swiss ski resorts. St. Moritz is an incredibly expensive town (almost 4 euros for a single espresso just to give you an idea!) that has been luring celebrities plus moneyed people since the 19th century.
As evening quickly falls over Doha, I walk through the still busy covered narrow alleyways of the labyrinthic Souq Waqif. Mud-rendered shops and intense fragrances of spices, perfumes and incense in the air. Majlis Al Dana is the place I’m looking for. An old coffee place, a real institution for this traditional marketplace. This is the the sort of place where old timers pop in for thick Arabic coffee and a game of aldama (similar to backgammon or what we call dama in Italy). It’s worth to be there when there are people playing at the boards.
Rome is the most fascinating city in the world. I have no doubt. Its astonishing artistic heritage can not rival with any other place on earth. The Italian capital is an incredible urban result of 3,000 years made up of layers of history and artistic development. Epicenter of the Roman Empire and then home of papacy, Rome is a city awash with priceless and wonderful artistic treasures under your eyes at every street corner. The iconic Coliseum, the Roman Forum you see shining at sunset from the Capitoline Hill till the beauty of the squares adorned by Bernini’s fountains and an incredible multitude of baroque churches and romanic basilicas plenty of Michelangelo’s sculptures or rich canvases of Raphael and Caravaggio. A city where even a small church becomes an art museum inside.