I had visited Switzerland many times, but it was my first time in Basel. Awesome place. At the airport they ask you: "Switzerland or France?". The left door goes to France and the right door goes to Switzerland. Once out the first visibile hill is Germany. So awesome. The city (or rather a town) is really petite and full of history. On day one I walked on the oldest bridge crossing the Rhine river. I had an amazing buffalo steak in a traditional restaurant. Then back to the middle of the city drinking coffee. Expensive indeed, but super classy.
The Museum of Natural History was one of the highlights. I would have not imagined to find so many interesting stuff in such as small city. I will let the pictures speak more than my words.
Here I am. Finally visiting the most populated country in the world. I've been waiting patiently for this holiday to Shanghai. The gigantic metropolis, home to 25 million people, has not failed to impress. The first surprise came actually from the weather. I had heard a lot of bad things about pollution in Shanghai. I was even told that was almost impossible to see a blue sky. But what I found was not quite like what I was described. On the way from Pudong international airport to the stunning Waldorf Astoria hotel, I was welcomed to Shanghai by an unexpected rainbow. The traffic was surprisingly smooth. During the 3 days stay I did not spare curiosity and excitement. On day 1 I visited the skywalk on the second tallest skyscraper in town, the Shanghai World Finance Centre, at nearly 450 meters above ground. I then visited the gardens in the old city, the Yu Garden. By then the sun was high and shining, while the humidity reached a barely bearable level.
Last stop on day 1 was the impressive French Concession district, where old and modern managed to merge in a sensational way. It felt truly vintage. Perhaps one of the best shopping experiences I had. As for food, of course I went for as much traditional as I could, and it didn't disappoint at all. Each meal counted in excess of 10 dishes. On day 2 I visited the gym and the pool of the hotel in the morning, while in the afternoon I had a full immersion in the typical Shanghainese sightseeing. I walked on that curvy bridge that all of the depictions of this city never fail to display. Evening time I attended ERA, an incredible acrobatic show. The highlight was the stunning motorbike ride in the metal cage. I saw this stunt before in Oman, during Muscat festival, where 3 motorcyclists rode their bikes inside the congested space of a spherical cage defeating gravity. Back then I thought that it needed a lot of skills for the 3 riders to gauge distances while driving at full speed in such a small space. This time it was totally mind blowing to see 8 of them performing the same stunt simultaneously!
At night I was impressed by the hospitality. I visited a pub after dinner and asked if the would have shown the football game Italy vs Ireland at 3AM. They said yes, so I set my alarm at 2:30AM and went to sleep before midnight. When I reached the pub it was close, but one of the waiters waited for me to inform me that I was the only customer interested in watching the match. Hence he gave me a motorbike ride to another place where I found a bunch of fellow Italians and enjoyed the game with them (though we lost it). The last day at the airport I experienced perfect timing at checking and a much slower boarding process. See you again China. Xie Xie Ni.
To me today travelling is no longer a thrilling first-time experience. However, discovering new places is still a core component in my curiosity to travel the world. Only if I knew these five point since when I left Italy for the first time in 1995, my entire travel experience could have been ways more pleasant.
1. Travel light
This is definitely my first advise. As every other Italian I used to travel packing sets of matching clothes. Socks, matching with boxers, matching with shoes, matching with belt, shirt, trousers and all the rest. I have realised that the matching lifestyle is pretty much of an Italian thing to do… Sure some other nationalities do match clothes of course, but in places like Southeast Asia, very few are gonna be bothered if the color my belt doesn’t perfectly match my shoes. So I go much more relaxed now. Jeans and dark shorts are my favourite allies as they need no ironing and low maintenance even in case of stains. Black or dark t-shirts go well together and don’t need a lot of panicking when eating soupy food around the world.
2. Wear no metal when flying
My usual travelling uniform is now made of:
A. sneaker shoes: very useful in the airport such as Paris or Addis Ababa where removing the shoes is compulsory at the security check. I can slip my foot out and put it back without even bending.
B. Sweat pants: I bought the most stylish I could find for less than $10 in an unbranded store running a promotion. I replace them once a year. I wear them only on the day that I am supposed to catch a flight. I wash them only upon returning from the trip, after wearing them once per flight.
C. Black t-shirt: perfect for airplane meal, that more often than not spills on me without noticing.
D. Small wheeled trolley: It is large enough to contain my 17 inches MacBook Pro plus a sling bag, but also small enough to squeeze in any overhead compartment on the aircraft. And it never hurts my back.
E. No metals: no watch, no belt, no glasses… nothing at all that could beep at the security check. Guess what? I am the fastest passenger in your security queue.
3. Buy travel insurance
It took me ages to take the decision to finally have a yearly insurance to cover all of my trips. In approximately 50 to 60 trips I have taken in the past 20 years, I have only got my luggage delayed or lost a couple or 3 times max. Insurance did a great job.
4. Pick one airline only
I used to travel on the cheapest possible flight, but I reasoned after a few years that the benefits I could collect by sticking to 1 airline only, could greatly exceed the amount of money I have saved by going always for the cheapest option. Ever since I decided to stick to one airline only, I have been enjoying numerous perks that could have costed me a fortune to purchase otherwise.
5. Get a Credit Card
As for the insurance, I have procrastinated getting a credit card for ways too long. I hate being in debt, so I kept associating debt to credit card until I got one. Since then I am travelling throughout specific regions getting complimentary access to Business Lounges that could have costed me so much more if I paid at the counter.
I define myself as a travel savvy person and I encourage friend and other people to travel following my 5 criteria described above. Have a safe trip :)
In the picture below you can see the first glimpse I had of Madeira straight out of the airport upon reaching the capital city Funchal. Madeira is a Portuguese island located nearly 1000 km west of the coastline of Portugal. Although the population is less than 300 thousand and the size of the island comparable to a small province in my homeland Italy, Madeira has an incredible landscape variety… And it is the home town of Cristiano Ronaldo!
Being in Madeira in the summer of 2006 was an extraordinary experience first of all for the football experience. If you haven’t watched an international football game in the home town of a global superstar, put that in your bucket list. The whole town goes absolutely crazy!
Madeira is made of regions that are so diverse within such a short distance. I remember driving from the sea level to the top peak above 1800 meters in less than a hour. From a sunny beach eating seafood to a foggy mountain eating the traditional espetada (beef with garlic and salt, skewered onto a bay leaf swords and cooked over hot charcoal).
The south coast features rocky shores and yellow sandy beaches, while the north beaches of Sao Vincente have pitch black volcanic sand. A few km after Sao Vincente in the round trip of the island, I bumped into Santana, a village built with colourful triangular shaped huts. It looks like the Portuguese version of Hobbit Village.
People in Madeira are incredibly friendly. They welcome foreigners like family members and they offer hospitality to everyone. During my solo drive around the island I came across a funny encounter. I parked my car up on a hill to take a picture of the crazy steep streets. A very fit man with killer look on his eyes and his hands full of blood came out of nowhere and started running towards me. At first I panicked, but then he smiled at me and said: “Atuna?”. He was “slaughtering” (I don’t even know if this is the correct word) a huge tuna and wanted me to try the meet.
I later visited the fish market and the city centre in Funchal. Everywhere I went it was tidy and clean. Restaurants offered a variety of meat and fish for very affordable money. Most of the tourists come from North Europe. And I found quite interesting how most tour operators in Italy were discouraging me to visit Madeira because of the supposedly cold ocean. However I found the sea warm and calm. I recall the clouds being quite crazy. Literally 20 meters behind the beach the sky was cloudy, but on the beach it was sunny pretty much every day.
I also recall dark lizards being everywhere and a multitude of cats along the promenade. Here and there around the city statues are placed to commemorate events of the past, like a statue of the Italian explorer Cristoforo Colombo.
I loved the atmosphere and I am totally planning to get back there sooner than later. Until now is one of the overall best places I have visited and I recommend it as a destination for both single travellers as well as couples.
Before Google Maps and Google Earth, when travelling was a luxury for few, my imagination craved for new places to discover. I was born in one of the tiniest towns in Italy. As a matter of facts is the only one featuring an apostrophe in its name: Castelnovo ne’ Monti.
750 meters above sea level. CnM encompasses one of the weirdest mountains in Italy. It is called Pietra di Bismantova and when seen from a specific angle, it totally resemble an old iron. It was also described in Dante Alighieri’s Devine Comedy as a comparison to the Purgatory.
During the nearly 6 months long winter, the most exciting this to do in my early teen ages, was visiting to the library or playing cards with friends. The first Atlas I received as a gift was a true blessing. First of all because it saved me countless trips to the library. Secondly because there were far more countries in it, than cards in a deck. I resolved to absorb everything I could.
While the first Atlas was great for pure cartography purpose, such as learning borders and capital cities, the second one I got was more of a geo-political tool to get to know the countries from inside. I am sure most kids would have to receive not 1 but 2 Atlas as birthday and Christmas present (me born in December get to experience gifts overdose once a year). To me the world discovery became a mission from the first day with the first Atlas. And it is still going on.
When the Soviet Union split up, my Atlas was left behind, and with Yugoslavia following with its own schism, I urgently needed more resources. At school we started talking about the new Republics being constituted and overnight I memorised all of them. I decided that I would have visited all of them, but it was one of those dreams that we usually leave to our imagination.
Now that my mid-life crisis in ongoing, the good old dream kicked back in and my exploration resumed. I counted over 30 countries visited. This year I ticked South Africa and Mozambique on the map. Next month I will finally visit China. Now I feel unstoppable and I decided to start writing about my trips. This was the first of many entries to come.
With the goal of 150 country to be visited before 2025, Stefano Virgilli is an avid traveller and expert connoisseur of the cultures of the world.