Harlem History and Brooklyn Charm

On my first visit to New York City, my Mum
straight refused to visit Harlem. She said it was too dangerous and wouldn’t go there. I vowed to visit this time, in the morning so I could then go on to Brooklyn later in the day.


I could walk to Harlem from my hostel, and on the way I strolled to the popular Levain bakery for a soft, indulgent brioche. It was milky, not too sweet, fluffy and just delicious. Almost croissant like, but still cakey. I watched the world pass as I ate, then carried on up North.

Around the Harriet Tubman memorial, Harlem becomes distinctly Black focused, which is why I came. For the rich black history. The murals and the bookshops. The people were just as friendly, with a guy stopping me to chat and offering his hand in marriage as a solution to my not being able to move to New York.


From Harlem I took the train straight to Bedford Avenue which is in the heart of hipsterised, gentrified Williamsburg in Brooklyn. 

First on the agenda was the Mini Mall. This was really cool, and definitely didn’t give off the Too Cool To Talk To You vibe. I ended up buying a whole lot of gifts here and a pair of shorts for me. 


From there I walked to the City Reliquary, but after spending $40 on shorts I didn’t also want to pay for entrance there so I instead followed a poster for a yard sale and went to that instead. There I met Dollfille, a living doll with really beautiful fashion, and I looked around my first yard sale.

The plan from here was to go to Artist and Fleas, get lunch and then make a plan from there. In actual fact I saw that down one street there was a few fairground rides. I became curious and followed it down. There were fairground games, Italian food vendors and Italian flags and a huge shrine at the bottom of the street. It didn’t yet make any sense. The vendors who chatted to me were Italian, but no one really divulged more than “it’s a festival we have every year”. The police explained that they carry the shrine at around 4pm, and it’s an Italian community thing. I was so curious I decided to come back around 4pm.


Artist and Fleas was nearby, but it was as I expected, very closed off and up itself and I didn’t love any of the things on sale so I left. 


Opposite was Smorgasburg which was a big Brooklyn hipster food market with trendy vendors lining. I am so disappointed in myself to admit that I chose to order a spaghetti doughnut. I know. It tasted exactly as bad as it sounds, but it was fun to eat at the “beach” of the East River. 


By this point I could head back to the festival, stopping first at a funky pink little gift shop that caught my eye. It’s Brooklyn Broads, a feminist gift shop that donates 10% of all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Although it’s pricey, all the gifts are created by female artists who the shop supports. I enjoyed looking around and it was very photogenic.


I finally made it back to the street festival, where it had really picked up. People were crowding around the shrine, and the sounds of Italian American Brooklyn accents punctuated the air amongst frying funnel cake and calzone.


A local explained to me that it was a long festival that happens every year. They carry the shrine up and down the block to a band, there is food and on the Sunday a mass. One young Italian American guy told me he is involved in carrying the shrine – called in Italian a “giglio”, or lily. It’s a huge heavy thing, but in Italy they carry it for almost twelve hours!


It was quite a spectacle to behold. The music, the carrying of the giglio, the culture and the celebration that was in the air. Everyone knew I was a tourist but I didn’t feel like an outsider at all as the whole block and its diverse community joined in.

I stayed until nearly 8pm, soaking up the celebration, taking photos, meeting people and hearing their stories and watching them parade the giglio. Above everything, this was the most perfect way to spend my day.


Although Manhattan’s midtown has many must-see sights, events like this that are just so true to the community makes venturing out of the centre so worth it.

Favourite sights: Levain bakery and Harriet Tubman Memorial in Harlem, Mini Mall and Manhattan Skyline in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Advertisements

Giving Milan a Second Chance

Twice I had visited Milan, and unlike the breathtaking Venice or the charming Bologna, I always came back underwhelmed. Milan was absolutely my “there’s nothing there” city.
Despite this, I wanted to go back for two reasons. I had never been to the Navigli district (or so I thought) and I wanted to eat Spuntino pizza.

On our last day in Italy, I had some free time to visit Milan alone. Alessio warned me to “be careful” but I insisted I was a strong London lass and I could handle myself…

Until the train pulled into a station en route and a burly man walked right up to my window and stared at me. When I looked away, he began to actually write on the window with his finger to me! That’s it, I’m going to get kidnapped here.

At Milan Porto Garibaldi I strutted off the train with confidence so everyone would see I was clearly a local, until I got onto the metro and had no idea what to do or how much to pay. A little bit of guesswork and I figured out Porto Genova was the stop I needed to visit Navigli – a stop I had already visited when I was in Milan for fashion week.

Navigli was beautiful. Small streets led off the main avenue, split by a large canal. The picturesque buildings sold gelati and there were tables with chequered cloths in front of little pizzerias. With the warm springtime sun, it felt so…Italian


I walked aimlessly until I found some very handsome national guardsmen to watch for a while. On the opposite side of the canal, I spotted a Spuntino pizza chain. I had wanted to try the little novelty pizza slices for a year, and the setting was the perfect place to take a lunch and reassure my boyfriend I was fine.


After lunch, I headed to the Duomo. I had already been there a year and a half earlier with Alessio, but now I could shamelessly join the selfie-takers. I didn’t do a lot in this area because I spent so long in Navigli, and to save on money I planned to walk back to Milano Centrale.


It was a bit of a task as my phone battery was rapidly dying, but I found a bit of time to stop at Brera and take a few pictures.

Near Repubblica station, a man approached me to ask me “una domanda“. My linguist mind went blank and it took a minute to realise he wanted to ask me something. “siii… siiiii” 

“Parlez-vous Francais?”

“God no… Inglese.”

“Sei bel-LIIISSIMA”

He continued in Italian, asking where I am from. I told him I am from London, and he asked what I’m doing in Italy. My alarm bells were going off, but the absolute twat inside me told me it’s a great chance to practice without Alessio being there to help me translate. And then he asked me to go for a coffee. Fuck, how do you say “my phone is dying and I need to catch a train?” at any case, my protestations were met with “why?! Do you have a boyfriend?” and “but it’s five minutes!”

In my desperation, I took out my ticket to prove I had to go, and along with it came a ten euro note I had stuffed in my pocket. Without any shame at all, and in perfect English he said 

“Okay, can I have some money?”

The nerve! And when I said I had to go, he continued to ask for a coffee and to play music on his music for me. 

I walked away in the end, but this is absolutely why I would be a useless solo traveller. “Perfect chance to practice Italian” un cazzo!

By that point I was just glad to finally get to Milano Centrale. My stress didn’t end there because I couldn’t find a single train heading to Gallarate. I had to figure out which trains were heading north and which ones were heading south and finally one popped up heading to Gallarate.
The day was definitely eventful, but I finally found a place in my heart for the glamorous Milano.

Milan in two days? Well, alright then!

How has it happened that a week after returning from South East Asia, I’m heading back to Italy?


I vowed I was going to give that country a break! They were tired of me and I was tired of il bel paese. You heard right. I was tired of authentic pizza, perfectly cooked pizza, fried sugary pasticceria and dramatic hand gestures. That’s a lie, but I needed a break from Italy after visiting four times in two years. 

Yet here I am, one year later, heading back.

I can’t complain. My in-laws are paying for the flights and putting me up, and I can’t wait to go to Spontini and stock up on Mulino Bianco biscuits. I can’t wait to see people, say hi to Nonna Bedogni and a friend who lived with us in London for a bit.

Being back from travelling is a tough adjustment. My life has mostly been applying for jobs and blogging and it’s been grinding me down a little. I’m excited to have a change of scenery.


I’ll be spending one day in Milano and the rest in the suburbs – probably alone. What are your favourite things to do and places to eat in Milan?

Best of 2016 Tour: Valtournenche, Aosta Valley

My plan, after my Mum passed was to get out of town and out of London and away from condolences. The earliest time I could leave, the better. 

As it happens, as it always happens, my boyfriend was conveniently going to Italy two weeks later. 

You know, like how he was conveniently going to Italy two weeks after we met, and I was also conveniently going to Italy two weeks after we met.
I do always enjoy a venture to Italy and that is primarily because of this bastion of all great European things.


Yes, Carrefour. Part of why I voted remain was the hope we’d get one here.

Anyway, his bi-annual trip home was to include skiing. Great for him, but I’m Caribbean. We do beaches and dancehall. We don’t typically throw ourselves down snow capped mountains.

“Have you seen Cool Runnings?” I asked him. In all earnestness, he replied no. I didn’t have the energy to explain that reference.

So there I found myself, atop the Italian branch of the Matterhorn or one of his cousin Valtournenche mountains.

It was an alright view.

Climb every mountain


This, however, was not.


For people who don’t ski – perhaps your ancestors are from hot countries too – ski attire feels like NASA space mission attire. Those boots are harder to walk in than McQueen heels. They hurt, there is no fashion in the cut of the ski gear and the layers are too hot.

That’s right. Too hot. What they don’t tell you is it’s HOT on the slopes. Plummeting into twenty inch deep snow is a relief. That was my excuse anyway.

How jarring.


My boyfriend has been skiing since he was a zygote. He was in the ovary when he was first taking on black pistes (not a euphemism) so going back to basics with me was not easy.

“Eh, you just push yourself DOWN the slope”

“What if I go too fast.”

“You won’t”

“What’s to stop me skiing all the way down and ending up in Austria?”

“You won’t. The way you brake and stop is like this *weird leg movement*.”

And this is where I struggle. When I am bad at something, I am really bad. If I catch a ball, it’s a surprise for everyone involved. Whatever leg movement he did to show me how to brake was an absolute MYTH.

There is only one way to stop when you are hurtling down a mountain attached to two planks of wood. Falling. Chuck yourself down. 

I was on the skinniest, tiniest ant hill of a slope, it wasn’t even a training slope, it was the bit of snow to get to the training slope and I was whizzing down the side of the alps at 95 miles an hour. I could see death ahead of me. At one point I actually could see why people enjoy this. I saw my future as an olympic skiier flash before my eyes. Then, I was heading off the mini slope and further down this mountain. Suddenly it wasn’t my future but my entire life flashing before my eyes. 

Implement Operation: Emergency Brakes! Falling into the snow. For a meter at least, my fallen body was STILL skidding and I was sure I’d skid until I fell off the mountain entirely. It was, absolutely, time to stop.

My boyfriend and his very lovely and patient childhood friend Carla went off on the black pistes and I headed to get a tan.

I was the only non-white anything there.


I took off the SHOCKING boots and propped myself up at the chalet. I believe they call it aprés-ski in the biz. But that assumes you’ve actually done some skiing.

Apparently up in the North they eat a lot of deers. Since the Italian lady at the chalet responded in English to my “una bottiglia di acqua, per favore” I figured I’d stick to things I can order confidently. Like this plate of pasta al pesto

Valtournenche ski slopes probably doesn’t have the best aprés-ski scene in the biz since I’ve definitely eaten better but the hours of relaxation was excellent. I had such a good sunbathing sesh that I was really disappointed when the skiiers told me time was up.

My disappointment was rapidly replaced by HORROR when they told me the only way back down the mountain (which we had taken a ski lift up) was on ski. Absolutely fucking not.

Eventually, we managed to beg and seduce the operator to let us back down the lifts for free. I think he took one look at me and took pity.

Once we were back in his Lombardia home, his skiing family and friends, entirely made up of skiiers, all found my failings HILARIOUS. They reassured me I’d improve but they assume I will ever torture myself like that again.

Valtournenche, however, and Val d’Aosta is very beautiful. It has a French or Swiss vibe, especially with the dual names, but I understand the language which is a bonus and a half. Despite being honest to god the only brown person on the slopes, no one really stared which endears me to any place. And just look at that winter sky! That’s how, despite my ski horror, Valtournenche in Val d’Aosta made my Best of 2016 travel