Every year for the last 40 (at least), the Finnish society here in the DC area, Kipinäkerho, now called Finn Spark, has put on a holiday market. It is always held in Bethesda, Maryland, at a church in the woods (Finland has a lot of woods).
There is food to buy and food to eat there. I went to buy the Karelian pies and cardamom milk bread, pulla, (like challah) and the gingerbread… almost everything was sold out by noon. Those Finns get up early!
I also bought rye bread. Finnish rye bread is made from a mother yeast extracted from the air. This is not strong yeast so the bread is mild and flat. And dense. I recall chewing quite hard as a kid to eat this bread. Now as an adult, I love it even more because of the memories it brings me.
Memories are often the thing that makes a food delicious. Nostalgia is a strong ingredient.
There were also other things for sale, but I was less interested in those. They were giving away free cookbooks so I took one of those. Maybe I will try a recipe. But more likely, I will wait till next year to get more gingerbread. Or I can go into Mikko’s cafe in Dupont.
All five of the Nordic countries have holiday markets in the fall. I will have to catch them all next year.
Holding your own book, that you wrote, in your hands is a real treat. It is not tricky to publish it. The hardest part is writing the book. A book does not have to be 600 pages. To self-publish a book, it is better to keep it under 200 pages. Cheaper too. Once you have written your book, then you can find a place to publish it.
Even if you have no cover artwork, you can still publish your own book. Below are some of the sites you could use. I have used Lulu, Blurb, and most recently, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing when I found that Blurb no longer publishes e-books. I wrote about self publishing twicebefore. I may experiment with other companies.
Washington, DC, is the capital of the US but also home to almost three quarters of a million people. The architecture is varied and increasingly high rise. Driving around DC, I realize how much I do not know about the architecture or history of DC. For a guide to the basic styles of homes in DC, check out this link.
With those words, Augustus (as Octavian was known from 27 BCE) declared the Roman Empire’s conquest of Egypt. As I was considering the end of my Roman adventure, I felt like I needed to go to Egypt so see that important part of the Roman world. Although Rome is modern, it seems to live on as the Rome of 2,000 years ago. Back then, Alexandria was the Roman capital of Egypt. I hear that modern day Alexandria is a very mediterranean city. I did not go there. I went to Cairo.
Cairo reminded me a lot of Dhaka. But a scarier, more aggressive Dhaka. In Cairo, I could see how as a single woman, one would feel danger. I didn’t feel scared but I was also never alone. When my friend and I were in the souk, she wouldn’t let us go into the long narrow stalls because it was too dangerous. She made the vendors bring things out to the street for us to look at. Maybe I was more oblivious back then, but in Dhaka, I never felt that the men were too aggressive. They tended to want to take photos and stare but I was not too worried about getting mugged or molested. Maybe it’s my memory changing the reality or maybe I was more naive. I was also almost never alone in Dhaka.
The first day, my friend took me to the souk, the Khan el-Khalili market, as that was my wish. It was hot so that trip was fast. I got my postcards and we left. We ate lunch at a place in the souk. It is a very touristy place and my friend had to insist on some of the local dishes rather than the grilled meat platters being pushed on all the other tourists. I had the falafel which in Egypt is made with fava/broad bean rather than chickpea/garbanzo, and I had the baba ganoush, and the other dips. I liked the stretchy flat bread. There was always too much food and I could see that the Egyptians are extremely hospitable. The next day, we went to a cosmopolitan bakery in the Maadi and that was also nice. That neighborhood had the same dusty streets and dusty buildings of Dhaka.
The next day, the sun was out and the sky was a pale blue color. Sort of. Another Egyptian friend, Mohamed, a former colleague who had worked with me in Dhaka, and a colleague from that time picked me up with a driver for a day out. When my friend picked me up, he had to come in and have a bit of fruit and coffee. Hospitality is king. The day turned out to be like one of those days in Dhaka which went from 9 am to 11 pm. The driver was filled with facts and his English was good. I told him that he should be a guide. He said that he was! My friends had hired him for the day. We went to the Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo). On this street, there is a famous ruin from Roman occupation times, 2,000 years ago (30 BCE when Augustus conquered Egypt). The fort was built in Babylon and years later, the Hanging Church is built on top of the Roman fortress.
Finally, I had to see the pyramids. They recommended the ring road. The pyramids looked quite nice from the distance and from an air conditioned car. I remarked so. At one point, the guide slowed down so that I could get the ultimate photo of a lush green field, a camel and donkey under two palm trees, and in the distance, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, the pyramids. For breakfast, around noon, we went to a place that my Egyptian friend chose. It was a place where they make “Egyptian pizza” or “fatayer” which is thin layers of dough with filling. One was with honey and others were savory. We had one with mozzarella, bell peppers, and thin slices of dried meat. Then we had another with smoked sausage. All beef. This dish is my favorite Egyptian food so far. The dough is fried in clarified butter and the pastry takes on the sheen of golden stain glass windows. Yummy.
Later in the day, Mohamed asked if we were ready for dinner. My other friend recommended “Hagooga” a local place. Very local. So new and local that even Mohamed had never been. We went around 6 pm and it was not to busy but most of the 40 tables inside were filled with families and others. Only Egyptians. We sat indoors. This restaurant was so local that even the locals ignored us, the only foreigners.
I got to try the famous “whisky” which is the salad dressing water from making the salad. We got the grilled meats, and other dips or “mezze” – not sure what it’s called in Egypt. I still preferred the breakfast pizza. At one point, Mohamed told me not to fill up on bread because we still had dessert. When were stepped outside, the courtyard was light with string lights and every table was filled with diners. There were twenty people waiting for tables. Another entertaining thing about Hagooga’s is that everything is branded with her smiling face and name. Even the brass lamps had her name stamped out.
Most of the local women I saw in Cairo had their hair covered. I asked if this was law and although it is not, they cover their hair. It is windy, sunny, and dusty in Cairo, so I could see why it would make sense to keep one’s head covered. My friend also told me that most of them go and have their hair washed once per week, so maybe that is another reason.
For dessert, we went into Rehab City, a gated city. It was like entering Miami. We went to an outdoor mall/market and Mohamed got us platters of sweets. I recognized baklava but I don’t know the names of the others. I teased Mohamed that this, the eating of dessert, was the most serious I had seen him all day. The weather was quite pleasant at this point and I can see why the Egyptians are night people. I also saw a chicken shawarma that was at least 200 pounds. After the sweets, Mohamed said that it was time for gelato. We protested but then he mentioned that they have mastic/mistica. I had to try it. I first tried mistica 20 years ago in Greece. In Greece, the mistica, a white honey like textured resin from a mediterranean bush, is served on a teaspoon in a glass of water. One licks a bit of the mistica off and sips a bit of water, each sweetening the other. This gelato was not like that.
Finally, the fun day out was over. Just like my tour of the ancient Roman empire, and Rome.
Diocletian was an emperor who managed to retire near his hometown, in modern day Croatia, and build a huge palace. He managed to abdicate. I am sort of fascinated by this. His palace is the old town of Split.
Now, Split is very famous because of Game of Thrones. I was not there for GOT so I enjoyed the Roman ruins without searching for dragons.
Apparently during peak season, the rows of tourists go in a conga line down the narrow streets, one row going in one direction, the other going in the opposite direction.
Perhaps ruined by tourism. But if you visit during off season and go in early in the morning, you will get the sites a bit more to yourself. Even the vomitorium. I went in search of it, but it was just a ruin.
Split reminds me of towns with marble lined streets in places like Apulia in southern Italy. I have a weakness for these white marble streets. I guess it makes it look clean. I did not see any trash but I also didn’t see any trash cans. But, I did see garbage collectors so I guess they do a continuous cleaning service? It should be noted that it poured and flooded while I was there adding a nice freshly washed look to the town.
The old town of Split is quite small so you can see most of it in a day or so. But, that allows you time to settle in a cute cafe (maybe in a ridiculously photogenic courtyard) and enjoy some gourmet coffee. I was pleased to see that most restaurants stayed open all day from breakfast through to midnight.
Tourism makes up 18 percent of Croatia’s GDP. I can see why. Split is a lovely town, even with 75 percent tourists. There are other things to see and many experiences that are made special by the tourist machine. I was in the oculus when a choral group began to sing. Magical. When I told the receptionist at my hotel about this, she said that even though she lived in Split, she had never had that experience. Probably because she was working.
Again, to see the locals and how they live, get up early. Visit the market even though it is touristy. Maybe even visit the supermarket out in the edge of town. You might find some locals there. Or look in the fish market. I am fairly sure that no tourists go in there.
Having now seen Diocletian’s retirement home in person, I am even more impressed by his choice.
So I finally made it to Venice! There are many ways to get to Venice, from the train, car, boat, taxi, plane, and bus. I tried several times to get to Venice because everyone told me how amazing it was/is. This time, I told no one where I was going and went. When I landed, it was pouring with rain. My taxi driver had no umbrella. The rain splashed up my legs like clamoring cats.
I bought an umbrella for 10 euro. I found my hotel and they suggested I try their affiliate restaurant for an early lunch. As my room was not ready and I was already wet, I decided to go see this city of mystery and passion.
There were many small streets and many canals. No trees in sight. I walked around and through puddles taking photos that I hoped conveyed the specialness of the buildings and atmosphere of Venice. Finally, I had spent enough time so that I could go to lunch. It was a lovely quiet place off the main drag. As an appetizer, the chef gave me a “cichetto” (a small open faced appetizer like a tapa) or whipped re-constituted dried cod (baccalo) on a piece of baguette. I was surprised that the appetizer was warm. It was soft. I then had excellent pasta. I was the only customer in the restaurant but the Bangladeshi cooks and the Italian waiter ate their meals before starting their work shift.
Later, as I was finishing up, some Italian ladies came in bringing a cloud of perfume and shiny gold purses, to order their dinner for the pre-arranged dinner they had planned. I was a bit cold from being wet but as the sun came out, I felt that I needed to take a few photos with the blue sky as a background.
Then, I took a nap. Later, I went on a group tour of the canals including the grand canal. It was impressive. I was reminded of the days of the grand tour when everyone was on show. Today, the tourists are not as elegant as those tourists from the nineteenth century but if I squinted, I could imagine them swanning about in their puffy sleeves and silk stockings.
At night, I was abruptly jarred back to modern times as I tried to find a place to eat that was not touristy or unavailable. I kept getting lost and eventually found a place where they would let me eat. The Three Lions was filled with French, German, and American tourists, but the place felt a bit like a secret place nonetheless. The waiters spoke French and English and they were quite nice.
I went back to my fancy palace bedchamber and listened to the assignations on the street below as I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, before dawn, I took a water taxi to the airport. At 140 (150 because it was night) euro, this was worth the private ride across the lagoon and into the svelte modern water taxi port at the airport.
So, now that I have seen Venice, what can I say? I saw it. It was lovely and it was easy to find streets all to myself. Would I say that one must see it? I guess so. But, I do not think I would go back.
Well, we tried. But, the line was too long for my liking. Instead, we enjoyed the boardwalk along the panoramic view over the plains, and we caught a glimpse of the edge of the Villa d’Este gardens. That will be enough for me. I will enjoy the online photos.
We also enjoyed the fountains that were in the public bathroom park.
We also enjoyed getting out of Tivoli. There are too many tourists and this is just spring. Wait till the summer!
In looking for parking, we had a nice drive (the driver shudders) through the center of Tivoli. Cute. Just like so many other Italian towns.
There is actually a hotel in the middle of the Villa d’Este gardens. I wonder how nice that would be to stay in?
As part of my quick tour of the Baltics, I spent a day or so in Riga. It was extremely clean. Riga has an old town but it is not as medieval as Tallin’s. In Riga, on the main square, the bricks are laid out to show where the old houses were torn down to make way for the grand square.
I still managed to find some buildings from before 1700 but it took some hunting.
I went to a market that is trendy. I think I preferred the famous central market located in the zeppelin hangars.
Estonian food is so different than Italian food. But in a way, very familiar. I went a well known restaurant, Rataskaevu, in old town Tallin and ate in a picturesque tavern.
Of course, I tried the elk. But I did not like it as much as the salmon soup and the rye bread.
Near me was an international group of friends who had travel over from Stockholm, Sweden, for lunch, emphasizing how small the distances can be up here in the Nordic-Baltic region where the transportation and WIFI are fast.
In Tallin, all the restaurant staff spoke excellent English. It make visiting quite easy.
Tallin is a favorite city for many people and I asked one where he thought I should eat. He recommended Moon, and it was delicious.
When I admitted to the waitress that I did not like the pickled appetizer platter, she admitted that generally one needed to be drinking vodka with it.
The “Chicken Kiev” was the best I have had. It was light, moist, juicy, buttery, crunchy, and delicate.
One of the things to see in Rome is the keyhole of Malta. Visiting Malta is so much more than that glimpse into the world of the knights of Malta. The tiny central island just off of Sicily is as fantastical as one imagines it to be.
I visited on a cold winter day with torrential rains bucketing down like biblical times. Yes, I still loved it.
Maybe because of the weather, it was a better experience — free of the millions who flood the island every year searching for Gladiator or Game or Thrones…
The island of Malta has a long history as a embattled island due to its central location in the Mediterranean. To borrow from the Visit Malta site, “the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the Byzantines” and then the Berbers, Knights of Malta, French, and British all had influences on the island.
St. Paul was shipwrecked here in current era 60 (AD). This is a big deal. Christianity is a big part of the island. The Knights of Malta were a Christian order which is considered sovereign, but now they are a Christian humanitarian organization. They have had different names at different times in history but they ruled Malta from the 1500s (when they were given Malta as a territory after fleeing Rhodes after the rise of the Ottoman empire) to the 1800s.
Valletta has been the capital for 450 years and has a uniform look to it because it was built in three years. The buildings of the old town are all made of the same pale yellow rock that was quarried from the exact place where the buildings were built. In some ways, Valletta reminded me of the towns of Apulia like Lecce, Bari, and Polignano a mare. Maybe that is why I liked it so much. The stone is the same color as the stone used in Jerusalem.
Malta had a capital before Valletta was chosen. The old capital goes back 4,000 years and is located about 20 minutes drive from Valletta. Mdina, not to be confused with Medina, is the old capital and right outside its gate is Rabat, not to be confused with Rabat.
The language of Malta, like the people and culture, is also a mix. It has many words that are the same in Italian but I did not understand Maltese at all. No matter as they speak English as well.
Another reason to go to Malta is to see a Caravaggio painting. The church is also beautiful but to be in front of a Caravaggio is a special moment. This brings a visit to Malta full circle. Many consider Caravaggio to be the first cinematographer for his use of dramatic light and shadow. Malta, with its dramatic history, seems most famous now as a movie location.