Sicily is one of those places that just tick all the “romantic weekend” boxes in my book: the perfect weather, the abundant food, the powerful wines, the awe-inspiring views, the crystal clear water…
I’m just back from an otherworldly weekend to celebrate friends’ wedding, and as the excellent Italian blog Memorie di una Vagina puts it: “last weekend I went to a wedding in Sicily where I understood that Sicily is just like an excellent lover: as soon as you leave it, you want to go back and make love”
“Lo scorso weekend sono stata a un matrimonio in Sicilia e ho capito che la Sicilia è come un amante eccellente: appena se n’è andato hai voglia di rivederlo e di rifarci all’amore.” (translation is mine)
She’s absolutely right. When are we back again?
Sea side photos are mostly taken from the Capotaormina Atahotel where we had a fantastic relaxing time. Views are mixed, as a sea person, I just really enjoyed the view and multiple beach accesses, the sunset in the overflow swimming pool…that being said, some prefer being up the hills in the village to grasp more of the local atmosphere. (The Metropole was highly recommended by friends)
Views from the Greek theatre are spectacular, it can be either visited in the daylight, or rather, to see it alive, check performances organised in the evening during the summer season. From up there one has a wonderful view on the bay, the town and the volcano; a friend even managed to attend a performance where the opera music was “accessorizing” a stunning sunset and a lava eruption in the background…
With a car, it’s also possible to drive up to Castelmola and watch the bay from even higher up. The little village is smaller and less touristy but nevertheless fantastically picturesque.
Next time? (yes because there will be) other friends decided to cut the beach time short and go hiking up the Etna volcano, which sounds quite tough but worth it; although it would depend on the level of activity of the volcano as well I guess.
Now let’s get back to diet after the rather insane amount of food we just feast on if you please…
Even just a few days in Tokyo were enough to be dazzled
the 3 reasons why Tokyo is an easy city break destination and a quick wedding etiquette guide!
For the outstanding service: ease of transport, wifi freely accessible, clean and easily accessible convenience….The city seems designed for working busy people, it’s expensive but convenient.
it’s exotic, or at least different for Westerners. As high-tech’ and developed as Japan can be, it’s still surprising and gives you that exciting feeling of adventure – even if it just means asking your way and manage to take the tube in that big underground jungle of theirs.
it’s varied, and visually beautiful. Each neighbourhood is different, from the neon lit busiest in the world cross road of Shibuya, to the refreshing quiet of temples and the maze of narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods of Yanaka. There’s culture, fun and crazy things for all.
Meji Jingu temple
maze of old streets around Yanaka
prayers at the Meji Jingu temple
When to go?
April is probably the single best period to head of to Japan, we caught the beginning of the Sakura, and more than just a beautiful tourist attraction it really marks the change of season; it’s a time of renewal and Tokyoites visibly appreciate it. I loved how Ueno park was so busy with workers organising picnics after work.
Catching the coming of age ceremony in the winter (2nd Monday of January), and maybe coupling it with a trip to the mountain would probably be my next choice.
Avoid going in June / July as you would hit the rainy season.
Picnics in Ueno park
teenagers in Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi park at the beginning of the sakura season
Sakura around the Tokyo Palace
Harajuku and its crazy colours…
And as Tokyo is not exactly cheap nor next door, a simple city short break doesn’t really make sense. I really wish I’d had more time to go to the Mt Fuji, to Kyoto, to the mountains…
The reason why I skipped quite a bit of the main tourist attractions is that we were mainly there to attend our friends’ wedding. Other friends who could stay longer and had time to tick more of the “to-do” boxes and voted the the sumo fighting as their main highlight…I guess I’ll just have to go back!
If you thought getting married, anywhere in the world, was a complicated matter – let alone finding the right partner in the first place – then try Japan. The hair-splitting etiquette steps this game by a few extra notches! The beautiful and emotional ceremony that ensues makes it all worth it though.
a few fun facts that seriously surprised us Europeans…
– I’m a guest, what present do I bring? fresh money, i.e. brand-new, crisp, unused bank notes in a nice envelope that you will hand out to the hostess when signing the register.
– When is the wedding happening? on a lucky day of course. How is the lucky day determined I still haven’t fully grasped it but it seems to be a full time job description…
– I’m a non-Japanese guest, what do I wear? locals and relatives will wear the traditional kimono but really most just wear classy European-style outfits.
– Am I going to share a table with the old aunties? unlikely, as the seating plan is a rather serious affair:
The bride and groom’s respective bosses should be seated at a prime table opposite the couple and be in charge of the opening speech…not the best man or the parents!? Or at least not in the first place: following the opening speech, everyone gets the opportunity to say a kind word.
The seating plan then continues in layers, the friends first and finally the family, placed in a sort of umbrella literally and figuratively stepping back and overlooking their (grown-up) little ones starting their new life from the distance…which is surprising at first, however, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a healthy approach to family relationship.
– “Kagami-biraki” or Breaking-open the sake cask. In an utterly ethnocentric way, I compared this to the European cake-cutting tradition (yes, shame on me). The couple breaks open the lid of the Sake barrel and cheers with their guests, a way to bring good fortune and fertility we were told. And we got the most thoughtful tie-me-down present: our own name-engraved sake cups, in Japanese characters of course. Isn’t that the coolest Hikidemono ?
To Read and Watch before you go
*1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is the book I got recommended most and it was certainly a fair piece of advise! I had thus far postponed the reading of the best-seller by laziness and other petty excuses but didn’t regret plunging into the 3 volume heavy story.
Not only Murakami hooks you in like no other Japanese author, but also it’s fantastic to travel in the city via the 2 main characters. A fan even created the corresponding map!! Thanks
*Lost in Translation
a well made journalistic blog I still keep reading since I came back, always full of very interesting, detailed and almost daily cultural snippets
The world divides in 2 categories: coffee addicts and tea maniacs. Turkey ticks both (and many other addictions)
I first discovered Turkish coffee when I was a student in Madrid, my friend would brew some at the beginning of revision session; the little ceremonial was a good way to get us started. Boil it in the little cooper pot, with sugar, repeat 3 times – his grandma’s tip. It’s and acquired taste; as the coffee powder isn’t filtered, it can be rather dusty if one drinks hastily.
Turkish coffee requires a bit of time, some friends to share it with, and preferably a nice view on the Bosphorus (fancy option).
When a Turkish man go to his in-laws-to-be, asking for permission to marry the beloved one, she should prepare some coffee and serve it to her dad when he approves the union. Now I don’t know if I have particularly cheeky friends, or if everyone else does this, but she purposely put salt instead of sugar before serving, for the father has no other option but to drink the cup at that moment!!
Oh well, they did get married (I will have to write a post on that absolutely fantastic wedding indeed), and as far as I know they’re still in good terms with they in-law, thanks for asking!
ps: check the rumeli hisari area for brunches overlooking the bosphorus, we were recommended Nar or Lokma Cafe but there’s really quite a few options. I think it would make a fantastic jogging area but didn’t have the leisure to try (for this time!)
(and if you order burritos to then post poor reviews on tripadvisor, please make your way out of this blog)
Like the King’s wife, Salma of Morocco, my friend is from Fes. Unlike her, she is a full time executive worker in Paris and married a French guy from the Caribbean The common point to all Moroccan weddings isn’t the rum-punch; it’s that the bride is always a princess. Like in little girls dreams, she’s pampered, fed delicious delights, being introduced to the party on a sedan chair….
Moroccan weddings are a major institution, and 3 days of festivities could feel quite intense; however, life goes by at a different pace there, and the seamlessly organised step by step process is also very patronising, securing. First because they’ve invented the wedding planner concept with their tradition keepers (the neggafates), so no schedule slip and no worries – at least for the guests.
I flew there 2 days prior to the wedding and we steamed and scrubbed in the hammam at the sound of women’s songs and chants…marvellous way to relax and gather amongst girls. Unsure if it’s the pampering or the carb and sugar load but the whole pre-wedding experience feels pretty childish, in a good way. more info on Morrocan weddings
And the actual wedding ceremony is a spectacular ballet of – extremely sweet – food, from the pastilla to the Cornes-de-Gazelles and other honey&almond-heavy deliciousnesses. And if you thought European weddings were colourful and Kaftans were a austere dress ? mmm not quite there; guest are rivalling with not so traditional kaftan of all colours, shapes, fabrics, folding it up the knee and dancing till late.
The diversity and refinement of kaftans is fascinating from a fashionista point of view as it gives a canvas that can be declined in to so many versions! I went to the wedding wearing a long gown but instantly wished I had rented one! I had never realised it could be so sophisticated and also figure flattering with the large belt that can be adjusted. To get a better idea, check last year’s fashion shows, and my favourites
Do’s and Dont’s
do stay in a Riad in the medinah, avoid the Hilton (Sofitel) unless you’re on a business trip. I stayed in Ali’s Riad Zyo, an oasis of hospitality. I could eat his home-made beghrir everyday for breakfast…yum
do bargain argan oil, rose water and orange blossom water: each time I open the bottle, my bedroom travels back to the souk
don’t go for just a weekend if yuo’re travelling from London – with no direct flight to Rabat you will have to fly to Casa and take a train. It’s cheap and rather easy, people are friendly enough they will show you the way in French or broken English, but plan at least 5 days
Morocco is an enticing country, with lovely, welcoming people and Rabat combines the wealth, the Mediterranean sea-side and diet. When tourist guides all focus on Marrakesh and Essaouira, I felt pretty privileged to have been invited to Rabat and shared delicious home made Couscous al-fresco.
From there, where next?
surfing in Imessouane, Dakla or Sidi ifni which I have been recommended recently. And given how welcoming people are, how good the food and how consistent the weather is, it’s on the “get back” list