Ilana at the Kew Gardens

There it is something special about the English gardens: in addition to the beauty, rich vegetation and geometry of the alleys, at the end of almost every visit, it is something new I learn about history, geography or arts. I find the German parks unexpectedly chaotic and the French ones too romantic, regardless of the occasion. The English gardens are for simple people like me in love with learning in the shortest possible time as much as possible. 

Exactly one week ago, I was visiting for the first time the Kew Gardens where I spent more than three hours admiring flowers from all over the world and learning about spices and types of trees. After every glasshouse we visited – due to the high temperatures, it was not always very easy to resist the extra heat inside and I left some places for a next time – we stopped for a little while on a bank to have a fruit snack or to rest before the next destination. The distance between places of interest could be of around 15 minutes, but especially the last Sunday, there were a lot of people around so being able to see everything takes more time than usual. 

I enjoyed the Palm House and the rich vegetation of the tropical rainforests and spent more time than usual at the Waterlily House trying to learn more about the origin of spices. The cacti area was another favourite of mine, but did not feel as I am in the middle of the desert, as a fast squirrel run from a part of the street to another and did not stop till she reached the top of the next tree. After visiting the London Aquarium the local collection of fish was a bit disappointing, but was a good opportunity to move fast forward to the next green corner. Such as the oldest Corsican pine in England, that reminded me a lot of my wonderful 1 week of hiking in Corsica a couple of summers ago.   

For more organized people and with a cleared agenda, there are many activities taking places at the Gardens, including talks and courses summer programmes, movies projected at the open-air cinema and cookery demonstrations at the Kew Palace. The Palace, the smallest of English royal palaces built in the 18 century, can be visited at no extra charge. The children will enjoy the ‘climbers and creepers’ space, an interactive area where they can wriggle through tunnels and slide down a giant pitcher plant. I will recommend a full day at the Gardens. There are also a couple of restaurants as well as enough spaces for pick nicks if you are brave enough to carry the basket with goodies with you! 

Boats are available to rent, but as usual, I rather prefer to walk on firm land than to put my non-existent navigation qualities at trial. The souvenir shop offers not only many interesting books about gardening and healthy cooking, but also beautiful flowers to buy – orchids and cacti mostly. For a complete tour of the Gardens, mini-cars are available, but I wanted rather to return in the foreseeable future than to see everything at once. Expect more Kew Gardens posts soon!



Ilana discovers Nantes

Before going to Nantes, I knew a lot about the local history – the edict of Nantes confirming the unification of Brittany with France, for instance, and a little bit more about the Loire Castles – but did not have a clear idea about the present of the city, its people and what to expect in terms of cuisine. After spending there one days and a half I left with the feeling that I would loved to stay more, not because it is France, but because everything has an inviting special flavour. And it is not only because they have delicious galettes, believe me.

A rainy date

I arrived in Nantes in a rainy afternoon, keen to find my hotel. But as it seems it was not easy and the hotel was not situated in the center, I preferred to spend an hour walking the streets of the old city. I ended up in Creperie Heb-Ken that was packed with people, many of them tourists brought there by rain and posh recommendations. The crepes with apple were more delicious than the my first galette – with mushrooms. I was not very impressed by the taste as such, but appreciated the very fast service. I left in less than one hour, convinced that I should return for a proper review but even though I will pass by several times in the next 24 hours, I was too busy to review and visit new food places. However, it was a very good start to get acquainted with the people and the local food.

Once I was able to locate my accommodation, early in the morning the next day, I started my real Nantes adventure. Cultural and intellectual adventures, of course, as the city is not that big to get lost and safe enough to do not have problems at all – I went in some ‘banlieu’ but was nothing compared to what you can find in Paris or other big cities.

First stop before going on the tram was at a small bakery – boulangerie. Besides their important role in bringing good smells and tastes to the local tables, such places are real social connectors labs. I stayed there for around 5 minutes and observed how the ladies serving there were asking the customers about their children, relatives and the latest holiday plans. They sold me a Bottereau with a smile and invited me to come tomorrow too. Most probably, they were curious about me.

Round the city with the tram

If you don’t have a good budget for taxi trips or if are not a car traveler, using Nantes public tram system is the best way to move around. It is cheap, goes very fast and looks very clean – much cleaner and elegant compared to the Paris subway. The bus service is also available, but I was so happy with the tram connections that I did not want to try anything else.

With the tram, I tried to go on and off several times, attracted either by a colourful graffiti, or an old building or something appealing for my photo guides.

My big next stop, after a little foodie adventure tasting some tartellette citron with a coffee, was in Jardin des Plantes. If you are commuting by train in Nantes or if you have some free time before going to your next destination, you should spend here at least 10 minutes. It is situated close to the train station and many passengers prefer to stay there and relax with their luggage for a couple of minutes or hours.


As for me, I stayed there for at least 2 hours and still not having enough of admiring the beautiful flowers and the creative green areas. As during this summer, several art installations were created in the city, part of the Voyage à Nantes project, the garden was offering a lot of surprises to the visitors: the laughing stones, the huge resting grass duck or the gigantic bank.

A historical adventure

With my lungs full of fresh air, I continued my journey with some historical discoveries: a visit at the Castle of the Ducs de Bretagne. The building constructions were started in the 15 century by the Francis II, the last duke of Brittany, and continued by Ann, his daughter. In 1784, Louis XV transformed the castle into an arsenal aimed to defend the Atlantic Coast. Nowadays, it hosts a permanent historical exhibition and several spaces dedicated to temporary exhibitions. I went to the one dedicated to the world wars, made a tour of the ramparts – with a lot of facilities for disabled persons and trolleys – and continued with the discovery of the past of Nantes at the dedicated history museum. ImageEven though I pretend to know more than the average about European history, especially history of France, there it is always something new and interesting to learn. I did not have any idea before that the delicate ‘petit beurre’ are a local trademark, created till the late 1990s at the LU biscuit factory. The former factory left with only one tower out of 2, is nowadays hosting a lot of cultural events. Apparently, this is the fate of the old industry here – as in Berlin sometimes. The Manufacture, formerly a cigarettes factory, is fulfilling the same function today.

Wonderful people and their wonderful machines

After so much history, I wanted to walk more around and spent the next hour going up and down in the old city. My next destination was more modern and creative: the Jules Verne Museum. I was not such a big fan of Jules Verne – I’ve read some of the books but the only one I keep reading over and over again was the 80 Days Round the World. The museum offers a small overview of the works and life of the author, plus some samples of the books edited by different edition houses. A bit disappointed, I wandered a bit around the area – an Astronomic Observatory is in the neighbourhood, and went straight forward to the Island of Nantes.

There are many nice islands in and around Nantes, but nothing compares to the island of Nantes. It looks like a little artificial paradise – but not in the Baudelaire’s sense. It is a world of imagination, with many machines that reminded me all the time about the courageous human mind. Too wise to go in a marry-go-round with marine animals and fish without scarring the children, I booked a trip with the mechanical elephant. To be honest, it was better than during my Chiang Mai trip – except maybe the noise. The huge wooden and metal machine is moving slowly, as a careful pachyderm, enough to make you feel that you are in a different world that we cannot always describe properly using our adult knowledge. The best is to not try to make too much philosophy and enjoy the moment. It is what I’ve done and prolonged my experience with a longer visit at the exhibition of machines.


Back to the foodie reality

After so much walking without eating anything else than food for thought, I felt that it is about time to go back in the city and try to find some place to eat. But it was a kind of underestimation of the local offers and two hours after, around 6pm, I was still hungry but too busy to take pictures of food shops or to talk with shop keepers about their products. Hard to resist the welcoming French and I was too curious to discover more and more about macaroons, baguettes, cheeses and various types of wines.

I did not miss some bookstores though, as I usually do in France, exploring the latest titles. The North African literature is always well represented and I am very happy to get in touch with a cultural and literary universe not always accessible in other parts of the world.

As there was the sales season, the shopping marathons were open, with amazing offers. But in France, shopping is an art, and the local branch of the famous Galleries Lafayette offers to the visitors interesting window concepts through art installations. The shopping exploration continued the next day, with some long investigations of the latest news in terms of kitchen tools. Another good destination for special shopping addicts is Passage Pommeray, with classical statues guarding the coming and going of the busy visitors. Shopping can be an aesthetic experience too.

After I saw a lot of interesting and tempting small and big restaurants – the classical Thai, Japanese and Indian, but also some special Cambodian menus – I took one hour break and tasted some Galette Provencale and Crepe Broceliande at St. Leonard. Eating outside in the summer is recommended, otherwise it is possible to find a place inside. The service was a bit slow, but worth waiting.

The main advantage of the summer trips is that even after 8pm you still have enough light time to continue the journey for at least 2 hours. It is what I did, walking slowly the streets, observing the simple architecture – sometimes with some Alsacian influences – and the green trees. Nantes is a city of parks par excellence, and the designation as the Green Capital of Europe for this year is fully justified. There are a lot of parks, not only used for playgrounds – the city is a paradise for children too, and the food is not the single reason for that – but as places to rest, recharge the batteries and contemplate the nature. Equally, the city authorities are preoccupied with healthy food and healthy life.

Thinking about the challenges of the modern cities, I arrived in Island Feydeau, bordered by the Erde, with many restaurants and places where the youngsters are hanging out and even a boat hotel. The fresh ambiance was the only thing I needed for ending such an intense day. I returned in the area the next day, for taking some pictures of the monuments in the memory of the French victims of the wars and the Resistance heroes.

As usually, after a first full day, the next stay is rather dedicated to put together all the details of the trip and to try to go beyond the tourist understanding of the city. After a long breakfast – a croissant and a small coffee – and some more writing, I went to the Talensac market, strongly recommended by other visitors of Nantes or some online tourist guides. I was waiting more action and interesting people around, but maybe it was only Wednesday. I felt like I am in a big supermarket missing the real life feeling from the big markets of my childhood. However, the products were great and tempting and with many local offers, such as the beautiful Senegalese mangoes or the Moroccan specialities, as well as the tasty looking home-made pasta. Nothing to say about the chesses, as it was exactly what I usually expect from a French market.

After more walking and another small stop in Jardin des Plantes – with more kids running around in the maze of trees and flowers, I went to my TGV, heading to my dear Paris. I felt completely uplifted, ready for new culinary experiences and with a completely new understanding of France. This country means something else in each department and was happy to be part for a short while of the Brittany experience. Promise to be back soon, Bretagne!

For more photo stories from Nantes, check my Pinterest board:

Golders Green food tour

Eating was never one of my biggest targets when on the road, but once my travel preoccupations increased, so did my interest in testing local foods and flavours. When in London, I always try to get the latest good kosher restaurants and trends and where else can I find inspiration but in Golders Green? And I never got disappointments, as the local food scenery is dynamic and diverse, trying to answer the needs of the very sophisticated customers. The home cooking in this part of London is extremely diverse and sophisticated and if you want to impress and take the people out of their homes for dinner you should be very good and to offer the best quality menu at a good price. 

Since my last adventures in the world of Golders Green food, some of the restaurants reviewed closed down – Yum Yum for instance – but new one appeared, inviting the food writer I wish to be to test them at least once. Many offer the possibility of take away – sometimes in exchange of a little extra fee.

I am very careful with the Chinese food, but after a long diet, I decided that Met Su Yan – a game of words and sounds, as in Hebrew metsuyan means ‘excellent’ – could be a good choice for a special evening. Especially on Sundays it can be very crowded so a reservation is highly recommended. The place is cute, clean, but a bit crowded, if more than half of the tables are taken. The prices are 3-4-star, but the portions are big. If you decide a 3- or 4-course menu, you will get a good price and a lot of food of your choice. The service is good, with the waitresses patient enough to explain to the non-educated customer all the details of the mysterious names of some of the plates. The cuisine is not necessarily Chinese, but also Vietnamese – I strongly recommend the coconut rolls – or Japanese – lovely sushi choices for the curious and passionate or Thai – not to miss the Pad Thai. I was not extremely impressed by the sauces – especially for the duck with plum sauce – but instantly went in love with the mango duck. Mouthwatering only when I think about it. As for the sweets, highly recommended the ginger icecream. The next time I’m back, there is where I want to start my food trip.

Late on a Saturday evening, Isola Bella is not open and if not going there for one of the delicious cakes – I went there the last Thursday and tasted an Irish cream meringue that finished too fast – why not continuing with more meat meals? I can’t refuse such an offer and tried Sami’s. Two days after we were back. I did not like the red decorations and the lights, but otherwise it is clean and with a friendly service. They have a lot of Iraqi specialities – the zaatar bread is unforgettable – and well done skewers. The chicken Tikka is unexpectedly delicious – I don’t trust always the Indian specialities prepared in a not typical Indian restaurant -, but the simple Chicken skewers are light and tasty too. I liked the roasted potatoes and the coleslaw, but I am sure there are more hidden gems in the menu. The choice of desserts isn’t that great, but a vanilla or choco icecream (parve) can end up the meal in a very smooth way. 

Curious to check if everything is fine, I stopped by at Dolce Vita (again) where I was overwhelmed by flavours and taste of the risotto salmon. As usual, the choices of fish and salads is good and the taste accordingly. The green beans salad and the olives at the beginning were good enough to appease my big hunger after hours of travel.

The last on the list was SoYo, where I wanted to have only a simple frozen yoghurt.  It is usually busy during the morning – they serve a 7.95 £ breakfast menu that looks quite rich. But there are also soups and salads and pasta, and some smoothies too. Upstairs it is a playground with heavy air conditioning during the summer. It is medium priced and not very clean. My biggest disappointment was the service: unfriendly, unhappy and delayed. I will return only if all the restaurants, pubs and fast foods around are closed. Image

Reading on the road

Reading is one of my favourites preoccupations and I hardly leave the house without a book in my bag. Who knows, maybe I will need to wait too long somewhere and I don’t want to waste my time, isn’t it? My passion is encouraged by the modern technology: since I got my Kindle where I have around 600 books, life looks easier for those sharing the house with me.  As long as I don’t live in a palace – the world is my empire – it would have been quite difficult to accommodate such a big number of books with those already on my shelves. From time to time I donate the books I’ve read, but shortly after, they are shortly replaced with new ones.

Also, for the sake of travel and due to the strict regulations for luggage, my Kindle helps me to save space and money.

One of the main advantages of travel, books-wise, is that for a good amount of time I am disconnected from the Internet and thus, I can easily read in around 2 hours 100+ pages without interruption. No wonder than that one of the best time for reading is when I am not in the front of the computer. Unless I read the books or articles downloaded there. 

Once arrived, the best time to read is at the end of the day of wandering and wondering and after my online work is done. Before falling asleep, 2 hours at least of reading will help me have very good dreams. 

What’s on my reading menu when I travel?

I have a couple of DONTs: For instance, I never take with me the books from the local library – I can be messy enough sometimes to forget where my head is, so I prefer to put on risk only my properties. I cannot read philosophy, highly scientific, and deeply serious and theoretical books in general – no cuantic physics handbooks when I am on the beach. I also avoid to carry with me books written in a language I don’t manage properly as it means that some place in my luggage will be taken by one or two dictionaries. Also, I am not sure that I can digest too much economy books either. A political science book should be quite easy and on a topic close to my understanding, otherwise it must wait for me till I’m back. It does not mean that if I have enough place in the luggage I will hesitate to buy books on a variety of topics. Surprisingly or not, I am not a big reader of classical travel guides and I rarely have one with me, as I do the proper documentation before the trip and once arrived, I try to use a lot of local knowledge. And, last but not least, I never read poetry on the road, and rarely I do it when at home anyway.

What I really enjoy to read are: novels, especially family sagas or history subjects, preferably on a topic close to the local history of the place I am visiting; travel books – some of them reviewed on the blog – and reviews are also the top reading priorities and every time I find myself in an airport I buy at least one latest issue of one of the biggest travel publications; I like mysteries, especially when I can reach to the conclusion during the flight or any dead waiting time. I also love short stories. Good food and fashion topics can be also chosen for the sake of language, lessons in photography or simply because I am too tired for anything else. If I am in the mood for something special, or I have a long trips ahead, I can carry a notebook with me to take notes, especially if I have a deadline for a book review coming up. As food writing and food in general is my newest passion, I like to read food memoires or food related topics. Biographies are also a favourite topic and I like to spend a good amount of time reading about various personalities. 

Curious to know what I am reading right now? On print, The Family Carnovsky, by I.J.Singer, a well written family saga starting at the beginning of the 20th century, and on my Kindle The Scrapbook of Secrets, by Mollie Cox Bryan, a mystery with stay-at-home mums and double lives that I am not sure that I will give more than one star. 

Happy reading, everyone. Life with a book is always good!

Travel book recommendation: City-pick St. Petersburg

I haven’t been to St. Petersburg (yet) but I am fascinated by this city, mostly due to my literary wanderings together with authors like Andrei Belîi or Daniil Kharms. I am not a great fan of Raskolnikov, but I do love Oblomov. The city has all the ingredients to attract tourists interested in history and arts and the City Pick Guide edited by Heather Reyes and James Rann answers perfectly my curiosities and confirms my thoughts about the city. 

Founded relatively recently at the scale of history, in 1703, and aimed to be Russia’s Western window to the world, St. Petersburg was inspired by Amsterdam and a bit of London. ‘Architects in Amsterdam and Rome were cramped for room in which to slot their buildings. But in Petersburg they were able to expand their classical ideals’. (p. 20, The Cultural History of Russia). Vasilevsky Island, for instance, was designed by Le Blond ‘as an ideal citadel town which would incorporate all life’s essentials’. (p. 28)

Russian and world famous literati – Truman Capote, Theophile Gautier, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre, among others – were there and wrote their memories about the city, with love, admiration or realism. ‘(…) sometimes this city gives the impression of an utter egoist preoccupied solely with its own appearance’, said Joseph Brodsky. Belîi’s St. Petersburg is a Chagall world, when the characters seem to fly brought by the fast forward movement of the busy century. 

A city of splendour and great expectations, cruel and loveable, the St. Petersburg of the literary world is either the result of short visits, long-term interaction with the city and its inhabitants or purely the result of literary imagination. As in the case of other guides edited by Oxygen books, it is based on a selection of relevant fragments from important authors, covering the architecture, different stages of history – I was expecting a more detailed presentation of the city today, including by the mention of the details of contemporary literary life; the fragments dedicated to the city under siege moved me to tears though -, main personalities and cultural benchmarks – as the world of music and dance.

For a long time, it was a serious competitor to Moscow, and it succeeded to be in cultural terms for a long time. Here, for instance, was opened the first public museum in Russia by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Nowadays, it is a source of resources for the political establishment and a city most sought by curious cultural tourists.  

Reading the description of the grandiose welcome and attendance for the Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in 1942, in the middle of the siege of the then Leningrad, with a mass of people in locks, sometimes without other proper eating than the neighbour’s cat made me more curious about at least seeing the city once in my lifetime. Understanding is as challenging as some of Belîi’s stories. 


Ilana at the London Aquarium


During my trips, I love to spend a lot of time visiting Zoos and natural science museums and Aquariums. I feel it relaxing and interesting and always an opportunity to learn new things. My latest love is the London Aquarium where I’ve been at least four times this year. There it is a similar place in Berlin that I visited in my first year in Berlin, but I rarely go in that area more than once the year. I do not like too much the neighbourhood.   

The big advantage of the London Aquarium is the great location, minutes or Tube stations away from London’s big attractions. From the London Eye to the Big Ben, everything can be seen and if you look carefully, you would love the view as much as I do. 

My usual schedule of a day at the London Aquarium is to try to be there around mid-day – especially during the summer expect some waiting time and a lot of tourists, but everything goes quite fast – spend there a couple of hours – I want to be in time for the penguins’ feeding time, around 3pm. If I am lucky, I can get some special presentations, as it happened today, when I’d learned about sharks. After I have enough of observing the fish and taking pictures – without flash – of the lovely creatures, I usually stop at the Marriott for a cup of tea or a fresh juice and I continue my journey for the evening meal. Besides the interesting show of the nature, one will always have the feeling of being part of a global world, with lots of languages spoken by the tourists from all over the world. 

One of the reasons I like to go there very often is that it is always some piece of information I miss before. I love the way in which the short presentation texts are written, in a language easy enough to be understood by people without any science background. 

The price is relatively high, of around 20 pounds. There are many information for children and some special playgrounds, besides quite a bit of kitsch and touristy stuff. But one can ignore that and be pleased by the incredible colour combination of the fish or of the grace of the swimming sharks. There are life lessons that both children and adults will always enjoy. 

ImageYou can also watch The Jellyfish show on YouTube.

Hotel Review: Villa im Park, Düsseldorf

Working as hard as I can at my Project 100 Places to See in Germany I can’t have enough of booking as many country trips as possible and as spontaneous as possible (nothing new about me). When I discovered a good offer for a night in Düsseldorf at a 4-star villa I did not think twice and did the booking. Before arrival, I did not know anything about Villa im Park, except the good communication with the hotel representatives via e-mail, in a good and fast English.

Reaching the hotel was not as simple as my GPS phone app showed. On the map, there may be 15-20 minutes of walk from the airport, but in fact there it is a highway you cannot overpass otherwise than by car, in our case, taxi. The easiest way, recommended by the hotel representatives was to go to the city, to the Central Station and to take a local train till Lohausen station followed by a little walk. We tried this variant later in the day and lasted around 30 minutes. But for the beginning, we wanted to arrive as fast as possible to the hotel for starting the adventure of discovering the town and thus, we preferred to take a cab. 15 minutes later and 20 Euro less in our budget we were at our Villa situated in a very middle class peaceful neighbourhood with art galleries and schools and also some restaurants very close from the villa.

During the Sunday, it was no one at the reception desk, but we saw a letter glued on the door with our name on it with instructions about how to find our key, to enter the house and our room. Very easy and efficient method.

It was a quiet ambiance, without any other sound than the big airplanes coming and going till late in the evening. When I fell asleep around 23.00, the noise was still there and it is was the noise that I noticed the first thing in the morning, around 7am. Note to self: never book a hotel near an airport, whatever fancy it may look.

During our first 10 minutes spent in the room, I admired the nice balcony where later I will do some little work using the advantage of free Internet. In the front of my eyes, I had a little lake with a flamingo statue and some cows in the neighbourhood. The room has TV and a mini bar with some drinks and chips and some sweets, a bath tube and a closet and a little lobby with a green table to put your luggage on.

There were some instructions in English and German left on the desk about the main facilities, the Internet password together with a couple of leaflets about the city, including a map of the subway. Anything was fine at this level and time of the day.

More than 10 hours after, we returned to our temporary home and had more time to test the facilities of the hotel. It was still empty, and we took a little tour of the garden, we stopped in the library, with many German books for all tastes. We arrived too late for the sauna, open only between 10am and 8pm. I was in the mood for some spa feeling but more dear to me was the passion for trips so luxury travel will be a next time and preferably in Berlin where I do not need to rush too much to see as much as I can in so little time.

There was a smell of old furniture and humidity in the lobby that I did not like it. Back in the room, I discovered some traces of lack of cleanliness in the bathroom, especially in the bath tube that did not please me. The villa is quoted with 4-star and such negligences are much below my expectations. From outside, the villa does not look well kept and was a bit surprised when I saw it first. There it is parking space in the front of the building.

The next morning, in the breakfast room, I discovered some of the faces of the hotel, a nice personnel and ready to help, in English and German. We were not alone in the hotel, as a group of Japanese tourists and a German couple joined us in the breakfast room. The breakfast is included in the price of the room. For the sauna and swimming pool one need to pay an additional 10 Euro fee.

Overall we enjoy our stay, but only because we paid a Groupon price and did not plan a long stay. I did not like the permanent noise of the air planes and the bathroom modest standards of cleanliness. Thus, the next time I will visit the lovely city Düsseldorf – watch this space for more updates – I will prefer to try a different accommodation option.


The garden is big and simple. More flowers will bring more life to the residence, probably.

You can also have breakfast outside, but the tables did not look too clean. Inside was warm and pleasant, with some background music.
You can also have breakfast outside, but the tables did not look too clean. Inside was warm and pleasant, with some background music.

The balcony is big and will technical facilities to charge your computer. I loved working outside, except the frequent moments when an airplane was disturbing my concentration.

The balcony is big and will technical facilities to charge your computer. I loved working outside, except the frequent moments when an airplane was disturbing my concentration.

The bamboo in the corner is a nice choice. The metal vase was looking quite rotten though.

The bamboo in the corner is a nice choice. The metal vase was looking quite rotten though.

The hotel has a library with a bar and German books. During the autumn and winter it can be a pleasant space for socializing.

The hotel has a library with a bar and German books. During the autumn and winter it can be a pleasant space for socializing.

The couch from the lobby. In the rooms and in the lobby there are many reproductions of modern painters.

The couch from the lobby. In the rooms and in the lobby there are many reproductions of modern painters.

The villa does not have many rooms, but has a certain air of intimacy that can attract the visitor to stay a day more.

The villa does not have many rooms, but has a certain air of intimacy that can attract the visitor to stay a day more.

The morning coffee served in elegant recipients. The menu has a lot of healthy meals: yoghurt, fruits, cheeses and teas.

The morning coffee served in elegant recipients. The menu has a lot of healthy meals: yoghurt, fruits, cheeses and teas.


Me and Paris. And my France

ImageI grew up with photo albums and books about France, especially Paris. When I did not have anything to do, I was looking at these albums and was dreaming about every street of the city. And I continued to do so, for a very long time.

My first official date with France was at Evian, where I arrived via Switzerland for a one-day trip. Was a nice landscape, but at the time I did not see too much the difference with my French-speaking Swiss kingdom. My first official France-only trip was to come later on and was a little disappointment. No, it was not a bad witch that put a spell on the city but it was rather my fault of knowing too much about it. What I saw was exactly what I knew from my mother’s books. I felt like coming home in my ‘quartier’ after a long trip abroad during which nothing changed. My mother of blessed memory, for whom France really meant a lot intellectually, went in one of the countries of her dreams long after me and returned a couple of times after, but I never asked her how did she feel when she was for the first time in France. I am almost sure that she was happy. 

I always tried to keep my critical thinking and had my ups and downs in my relationship with France. But I know that I need to come back regularly not only because I know the language as my own, but I because I share part of the cultural heritage and know so much about its history. 

Especially when I go to Paris, it is hard to behave as a tourist and therefore to make travel recommendations. Every time I am there, I have a full social agenda and I should adapt fast to the rhythm of the city. I need to be in time for meetings and find gorgeous coffees. The subway moves fast, but it’s always packed with people, but unless you use the cab, there it is no other way to find your way from a destination to another.

For those visiting Paris as tourists, there should be a strict schedule if one wants to get the best of the city: one museum or two the day, with a lot of walking, a stop in a park or an evening at a brasserie. In my case, it should also be a stop at a bookstore and maybe an evening at a theatre. For the sake of diversity, some years ago I spent one full day at Disneyland.

Looking for something out of the travel guide? Visit any chocolaterie and you will be surprised how people talk with so much passion about chocolate as some about precious diamonds. Did anyone notice that most hair parlours look like art galleries? These are one of the many reasons I can’t stay away of France for too long: very often it helps me to see the beauty in everyday life. It works pretty well for a little while.

Happy Bastille Day!


Ilana recommends Sziget Festival

Long time ago, I used to be a rebel girl going to concerts and spending a lot of time at jam sessions. I wasn’t the hard-rock type or the very hippie happy kind of girl either – although I enjoyed a lot walking bare feet in Lausanne for 5 minutes or so. I grew up in a diverse intellectual environment, with private piano lessons and a lot of classical music and Sunday classical concerts. My way of seeing differently my future was to add jazz to my hobbies.

Later on, in high-school, the father of one of my best friends was a jazz lover and I was introduced to the secrets of good music, with some rock from the 60s as a diversion. I tried as much as possible not to miss the big names playing in my town – including by getting to know the concert organizers and getting invitations and free tickets (networking and media relations was always my strong point, you see). I remember how hard – and sometimes impossible – it was to convince my mother to sponsor my adventures, lecturing her that ‘a jam session will never finish before 4am’. My big disadvantage at the time was that I was the only one in the family with such bohemian passions and not even my otherwise very supportive brother did not feel compelled to encourage me to go. However, from time to time I was able to impress my guardians with the intellectual background of my friends and after deciding that I am in a good company I was allowed to go.

During my summer vacations, I discovered Montreux Jazz Festival and for a long time I hardly miss one single summer edition. The irony is that today, when it starts, I am living closer to this gorgeous place in Switzerland, but I don’t share the same passion when I hear or read about it. But the feeling of freedom that I had then will never abandon me. It is how I want to live my life, free as a jazz composition, I told myself at the time. 

When it was not Switzerland for the musical summer, it was my Hungarian island – Sziget, at the beginning of August. I went there two years in a row, and for different reasons: I was in love with Budapest and its bright youngsters – and I continue to be now, despite the huge political disappointments of the last years – I wanted to improve my Hungarian, and to meet my lovely friends living in Budapest. 

During the festival, the city turns into a huge camp of young people looking for music. Inside the precincts of the festival, there are many stages and tents, each playing a certain style of music or having concerts. In between, there are discussions or NGO-related presentations and a lot of beer drinking and dancing on the grass. At the time, I had a lot of energy to spend the whole night concert hopping – not dancing, as I was not brave enough – and talking in at least 4 languages in 30 minutes and go back to the home of my friends hosting me and being fresh enough for a 3 o’clock coffee at one of the gorgeous open bars from the Danube banks. I always went to the concerts of the best bands in Europe and the tradition continues today, as big names from UK, US or Central and Eastern Europe are playing regularly (Alex Clare is one of the guests this edition). At the time, I was very interested in the local European musical scenery and enjoyed to get in touch with the beats and trends as well as with the musical styles of various countries, especially from Serbia, Russia and Hungary itself. Very often, they were doing more than music, sending strong social and political messages and for me it was always interesting to observe the mixture. 

Those looking to save money, preferred to spend their whole time at the festival campus and pay a little fee for camping. Otherwise, there is plenty of hostels and affordable hotels in the city and the transportation – including during the night – is going quite well. People do speak English and be not afraid if you are not able to say more than – after long hours of training – ‘Köszönöm’ (thank you, in Hungarian). 

If you are young, curious, in love with different styles of music, keen to (re)discover a beautiful city and its people and do not have a big budget for the summer, consider Sziget Festival. Before and after you can have a tour of the country and relax at Balaton or see admire the multicultural richness of Pecs.  

Hotel Review: Quality Hotel & Suites Nantes Atlantique

Assuming that I am the smartest and IT-literate person in the house always getting the best prices for accommodation, I am always in charge with the reservation for the next stay. Sometimes I use system that offers comparative views in terms of price and conditions, sometimes I follow various online or offline recommendations. From time to time, except the good price, there it is not too much to say positively about my choices.

For instance, two years ago, I booked an amazing hotel – according to the web descriptions – in Corsica. One hour of taxi ride from the Bastia airport later, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with nice goats and some lezards and the view of the sea 20 km. of mountain hike away. No restaurant to spend our nice evening and nothing to do except to look at the sky and listen to the bells (not my cup of morning tea). 

Back in France, this time alone, I did another brave reservations of mine. On I’ve found the tempting: Quality Hotel & Suites Nantes Atlantique. Most probably attracted by the pleasant resonance of the name ‘Atlantique’ I continued with the process and booked a room for 2 nights, for around 90 Euro. I am not sure right now where I saw the description according to which the hotel is ‘around 10 minutes away from the center’ and insisted that this is the truth, even after I was told by 3-4 local people in the sweet French language I grew up with that it is not and most probably it is out of town if the street where the hotel is located did exist though.

When you at the end of over 20 hours of non-stop travel and outside is raining cats and dogs it is the last thing you want to hear. Over a glass of red wine and a galette, trying to do not fell asleep automatically, I was thinking that either I better find a nice hotel in the center and enjoy the pleasures – and take the risk of paying some extra for the bad first choice of hotel – or I assume the risk of my stupid decision and go finding the hotel. At the end of the meal, I had enough energy to go on the second bet. A busy taxi driver mentioned a tram station where I should go before changing for a bus and continuing by foot. I took that tram, but at the Gare de Nantes station I decided that I better take a cab. End of the problems: the cab drove me in exchange of 25 Euro to the hotel.

In the morning light, I’ve found out that it is not such a big pain to arrive to the hotel, unless you are not very tired and not afraid to walk in the dark in a semi-industrial area, with no soul around for a couple of minutes. There are some fast foods and even a Leon restaurant close to it. By tram, it takes around 15-20 minutes to go to the center and there it is not that kind of hotel you will like to stay for a Romantic vacation.

Let’s visit the hotel


When I arrived at the hotel, closely to midnight and a bit nervous, I was welcomed by someone smiling at the reception desk and thus, all my unhappiness – no one by me was guilty for such a choice, of course – went away. I was offered the electronic key to my apartment and wished ‘good night’. The next day, there were two persons at the reception, all smiling that guided me to the right way to the tram station. I needed to trust the words of my guide, as there were no maps or tourist materials at the entrance. 

The payment is done at the end of the stay. Those interested in having breakfast, will need to pay an extra 10 Euro. I was not interested and thus did not check the dinning room. There it is a city local tax of 0.85 Euro paid at any hotel in France that it is added to the original price.

The lobby was looking busy, with group tourists being hosted here, or other French tourists arriving by car or some Eastern European families. 

The room cleaning is not done daily, unless you want to pay some extra for this too, but there it is a special room dedicated to massage or cosmetic treatments. Did not feel the need to do so or to visit another hotel room so preferred to wait to be back in Berlin for a visit to my beloved Ahava. Image

Another surprised I offered myself was the room: a family apartment, with kitchen and other facilities that I did not need. There were a lot of plastic and glass plates and pans and some glasses too, plus a clean sink and a microwave. In case that you want to do some special cooking, you don’t have a proper table to do so, and thus the only choice is to heat some ready made food in the microwave. There it is a fridge  – but not a minibar – as well, where to keep your goodies. 

The rooms have air condition, but the weather was not that hot for fully using it. And me, who was missing so much to play with the air conditioning remote control…

As I am a full freelancer, I need to have a good corner to set up my computer and a proper Internet connection. If possible, a proper lightening too. I had them all, plus a TV – never used it – and landline phone. The Internet connection is made via the phone cable, not always speedy, but offered me the right conditions to finish some work. 

ImageThe bed is big and the sheets were white clean. There were same art on the walls, a bit sad looking abstract wooden composition, that I will not like to have it at home. The view out of the window was not happier either, with a parking in the middle of some construction site. I decided to better focus on my work and have everything done in time for enjoying the time outside the hotel as much as possible.

Those interested in the ecological hotels will love maybe to stay here. In line with Nantes’ local policies – the city is the EU Green European Capital this year – the visitors are advised to separate the garbage – but there are no separate containers for plastic or paper though, trusting maybe our clear ecological mind – and to take care of limiting as much as possible the energy consumption. The hotel is no(anti) smoking. 

ImageThere are two different spaces for bathroom, respectively the toilet and I really appreciated this. But there it is any source of clean air in both of them. The bathroom looks elegant, and clean, with simple design of the furniture and some fresh shampoos and soap, but there was a persistent unpleasant smell of humidity that intensified during my 48 hours of stay, that I did not like it at all. (Who would like it, anyway?)

All said, I will recommend the hotel only for families on the road, eventually travelling by car and looking for an affordable accommodation. Otherwise, I bet there are many interesting options, even with 2 stars, in historical buildings for instance, that may offer something much better.