Picturesque Côte d’Azur

I have been dreaming about visiting French Riviera since I got a glimpse of it in the previously famous and quite widely used picture platform Flickr (of course, that was before Instagram times). I probably was in my first school years and my imagination had been obsessed with its polished and dreamy beaches, bubblegum-colored houses and palm trees, an opulent assortment of the paradise-worthy elements. However, it is only now that I (together with my boyfriend who had been to Nice already several times) finally set my foot in the heavily admired South of France, crackling with energy and enthusiasm, eager to capture places and emotions that would resonate with me even after many years. I must admit that the reality met my expectations even more than I could have ever wished for.

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One of the biggest advantages of having holidays in French Riviera are relatively short distances between different cities (maximum thirty minutes by the local SNCF trains), so the five days that we spent there were packed with various activities. The first day was dedicated to exploring Nice, its beach and appreciating a wonderful panorama of the city from its highest hill. It’s usually the first place tourists head for, knowing the priceless views that one can enjoy there.  On the second day, we devoted our time to Monaco and its jewels. One of our best decisions was not to limit ourselves to the casino or the bay area, but go to the Monaco’s Prince Palace, which was absolutely wonderful – it’s like another tiny city on the top of Monaco. I was also eager to visit Antibes (mostly for its colorful and romantic old-town) and Cannes, and despite our low energy, third day was also incredibly generous with beautiful sights and impressions.

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However, If I had to choose one disadvantage of the beaches here it would be the amount of stones (believe me, it’s not very comfortable to walk barefoot on a beach full of stones), so we chose to spend the day by the sea in a tiny town called Beaulieu-sur-Mer, whose beach is a little bit more pleasant for walking, tanning and swimming. It’s worth noting that I was absolutely fascinated by the huge mountains packed with villas and houses – I can only imagine what view their inhabitants can appreciate every day!

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I also believe that our timing was perfect – mid-May is very warm, but not too much (temperatures reached maximum 28 Celsium degrees, but for most of the time it was around 24) – it’s perfect for someone like me who doesn’t support the heat very well. I really hope to come back there rather soon as the French Riviera proved its status as an ultimate holiday destination and the days spent there were a pure bliss…

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The good guy Brussels

What can you do in almost 4 hours? From my experience, it would be write one or two articles, watch a bunch of TV series episodes (I’ve noticed that my favorites are no longer than 20 minutes), for many it would probably be quite a generous amount of sleep before the exam (especially if the whole cramming process starts just a little too late, as always). Last weekend I also discovered that 4 hours is more than enough to completely change my surroundings and travel from Paris to Brussels. Well, in theory the surroundings are not so drastically different, because I was still speaking French there and the atmosphere was just as pleasant as a Parisian one, but there were a lot of things that seemed to be weird… and in a very nice way.

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Despite horrible and unwelcoming weather (having an umbrella in this trip and wearing multiple layers as a sartorial shield was more important than anything), Brussels somehow left a surprisingly good impression. If I had to come up with characters, Brussels would definitely be a good, peaceful and a very simple guy (but definitely not in a bleak, boring way!) From this perspective, Paris could take on a role of a very capricious lady. The sense of calmness just pervades the city: nobody bothers to use a car signal if you haven’t noticed a green light while being the first in the waiting line (meanwhile in Paris… All the cars standing in all the different corners of the street will start signaling you even if your mistake and slowness is not bothering them in any way), the drivers stop to let you cross the street even if you’re only in the process of approaching the crosswalk, there’s no particularly loud music anywhere and people seem to be literally fleeting in a slow motion. The city is sooooo zen. Okay, I might be exaggerating, but the good thing is that it really gives chilled, relaxing vibes to such extent that you suddenly don’t even care about the rain anymore. Or anything else for that matter. It’s probably weird to start the whole discussion about the city from this point of view, but it was actually one of my strongest impressions.

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The architecture is a little bit somber (what’s up with the black balconies?), or even gloomy sometimes, but it’s very harmoniously counter-balanced with impressive, white monuments and historical places, which instantly light up the city center. There are no two identical buildings: Each one is distinctly individual and attention-grabbing in its own way, be it for intricate ornaments, industrial details or even rusticity. I especially loved the fragments of wall art (it’s much more elaborate technically to call it simple graffitti) peppered throughout the whole city.

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I have to admit that it was probably the first journey where I had absolutely no plans what I want to see or where I want to go – the evening before the trip I told my boyfriend that we hadn’t even thought about a single plan for Brussels, shouldn’t we give at least some effort?! But it actually turned out to be the best scenario – we were just endlessly wandering in the beautiful streets and enjoying every sight that presented itself to us. Well, there was one exception – I was eager to visit René Magritte’s museum as it’s my all time favorite artist and this museum is like a Holy Grail for someone obsessed with Magritte like me. Seeing Belgium through the prism of Magritte’s work was probably the best plan I could have ever come up with then the rain was threatening to break our umbrellas and ruin our hair. But to be honest, I’d have given up even the best weather to explore the black and mysterious halls showcasing Magritte’s art and life. I could go on forever, but I’m saving my impressions for a special article dedicated to Magritte, so stay tuned!

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Last but not least – Brussels fascinated me because of the incredible amount of stylish boutiques, art galleries, bookshops and stores of antique things! The city is surprisingly full of all things art, which gives a very special touch to the city’s portrait. It doesn’t even matter that a Renaissance-looking gallery can be standing next to an industrial building, an obvious skyscraper wannabe. The city may not have an extraordinarily distinct character, it’s rather a well-curated mosaic of different façades, but what an awesome place it is to be!  Brussels, it was a great pleasure to know you and let’s meet in the future – I hope you’ll have better weather for us next time.

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Love letter to Venice

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Last week, I had a little getaway from Paris to my beloved Italy, or more precisely, to a little gem in its North, Venice. Just before the voyage, I was studying about Giovanni Bellini (a well-known artist who’s often considered to be the father of the Renaissance in Venice) for my Art history presentation.  It’s actually an interesting coincidence – I was flipping through the pages of immense books, studying in detail meticulous and intricate paintings, learning about this miraculous city in probably one of its most splendid times just to find out some days later that echoes of this epoch are still very much present there. It was this knowledge, which allowed me to grasp what the invisible and charming aura of Venice consists of – it wasn’t the first time I traveled to Venice, but it was the time I discovered it.The visit was even more pleasurable because instead of thick mist or rain showers, I found a city enjoying sun baths – something quite unexpected for the beginning of November.

This unexplainable atmosphere is very comforting yet fascinating at the same time. Venice has that enviable quality of ignorance about the modernity – the only signs of the modern world are luxurious boutiques peeking from the small corners. That said, Venice’s grandeur is definitely its most important characteristic. The city’s atmosphere is not light nor easy: you just have to succumb to it, knowing that Venice offers treasures only for those whose eyes and minds are extremely attentive.

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Venice is incredibly small, but it also offers an incredible amount of possibilities to get lost while wandering around the streets – I haven’t seen so many narrow passages in any other place. It can look tricky and mysterious, but the sense of being lost here is a great pleasure. One of the most magical moments is just after the sunset, when night falls on the city and wraps it in its silence and darkness – without the sounds of cars and with so little lights, it almost feels surreal. Venice’s only soundtrack at night is the dribbling of water and distant echoes of sea gulls.

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Venice, you are charming for your heavy façades, your royal color palette, your dignity, your silence, your water banks, your cultural heritage, and even though you’re often reduced to a city of gondolas and masks, they’re far from the things that represent you the best. Keeping in mind that every city has many different facets, it’s ironical that the city  associated with masks is the one that doesn’t need or have any. Venice, you are a small universe so harmoniously constructed that there are no details that don’t seem to belong to you. Everything here is only and exclusively yours.

Venice, you are charming for all the stories you have but especially for the ones you’ll never tell, the ones that will be kept in secret and known only by the oldest buildings and the statues. I hope that next time I’ll be able to see and feel even the tiniest bit more of your treasures. A presto, Venezia!

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During my visit, I also had a chance to see exclusive exhibition “Chanel: La donna che legge” in Ca’Pesaro Venice, international modern art gallery. Keep in touch – the article is coming up!