Marseille, France – A Masterpiece of Contrasts

Some 10+ years ago my family and I took a road trip to Spain, but somewhere in France we got lost and accidentally got into Marseille.
I didn’t get to see much of it back then, but a few glimpses were enough to fill my hungry nomad eyes with wonder!

Over the years I heard and read contrasting things about this city. So FFW August 2019, I decide to go and explore Marseille by myself.

Notre Dame de la Garde, though not Marseille’s cathedral, is probably the city’s most iconic religious tourist attraction. The basilica is located on a hill, not far from the city center, and offers a bird-eye view of the whole city.

Looking towards the Mediterranean, you can see the upper-middleclass neighborhoods on the left, the Vieux Port and city center on the right, while working-class neighborhoods sprawl out towards the hills.

Marseille is known to be the most socially unequal city in France – hence its fame of city of contrasts – but that has to be read in context. No doubt there is still much work to be done in order to overcome these inequalities, yet anyone who has ever traveled to a developing country would not find Marseille extreme.

Marseille is a city of contrasts, but man, what a masterpiece it is!

PS: Marseille is a beautiful city, yet what I loved most about it were the “Calanques”. I’ll talk about them in my next post.

Goodbye Choo-Choo, Introducing Balù

Hey everyone! It’s been a while, I know…

Six months have gone by since I moved back to Italy from Bolivia and I still haven’t managed to fully overcome the reverse culture shock, but at least I’ve made some progress.

During this time I’ve been traveling locally, so I hope in my next articles I’ll manage to share with you a little bit about the beautiful spots I’ve discovered around Turin, Italy.

But in this post I want to update you one my stuffed travel buddies’ situation!

Bad News

My latest dummy, Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky, has tragically disappeared! He was last seen on one of the Borromeo Islands of Maggiore Lake, in Northern Italy.

May he rest in peace!

This is one of the last photos I took of Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky before his tragic end.
You have been an amazing travel buddy and you will be deeply missed!

Good News

I have a new travel buddy!

After losing Choo-Choo, my friends saw my distress, so they introduced me to Luigi Balù (or Baloo). We have recently visited Marseille, France, and he turned out to be a really cool dummy to travel with.

Check out this article if you want to meet all my travel dummies and don’t miss my next post if you want to find out what Marseille, France has to offer!

Sustainable Tourism: Going Beyond the Triple Bottom Line

In my previous article I briefly shared with you my concern over the evolution of the tourist industry and the negative effects of mass tourism.

While trying to understand this issue better, I came across Bruce Poon Tip on YouTube, who has become an inspiration for me. He is a Canadian entrepreneur who in the 90s launched GapTravel (now GTravel) and developed a business model that has a real, positive impact on host communities and on people’s life.

Bruce states that achieving a triple bottom line (financial, social and environmental benefits) is not enough and that businesses should also focus on passion and purpose.

His ideas might not be the solution to mass tourism, but at least they provide a model that can help local communities benefit from it.

Here below you can find a video where Bruce explains what he means by “going beyond the triple bottom line”.

Tourism Must Change!

Hey there! I haven’t been very active on this blog lately and also I haven’t traveled much in the past couple months.

But on the plus side, I have made a huge progress in dealing with the reverse culture shock caused by my return to Italy. Yes, I still feel a bit like a fish out of water and sometimes I want to run away but fish don’t run *sigh*.

Also, my little brain has been thinking over and over about how tourism has evolved over the last decades and it keeps yelling at me: “SOMETHING MUST CHANGE!”

But what’s wrong with tourism?

Quite a few things.

Tourism has increased exponentially in the last 10 years, and it is expected to grow even more in the years to come – which is great, considering that it already represents an important percentage of many countries’ GDP.

But there is a problem: IT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE, not the way it is today and not for the long haul.

Why?

There are volumes and volumes that talk about why tourism has become unsustainable but, in a nutshell, these are the three main issues:

  • mass tourism is destroying our cultural heritage, ecosystems and local cultures
  • many people feel like the high number of tourists visiting their communities are a hindrance to their day-to-day life
  • only a small percentage (about 5%) of the tourism-generated income actually goes to the host countries

Guilty!

I pledge guilty!

I am one of those guys flocking at Machu Picchu, lining up at the feet of the Eiffel Tour, treading the Great Wall of China and causing bike traffic at 5 am on the way from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat.

Is there a solution?

I think there is. There has to be one! But we need to change the way we do tourism.

In my next post I will come up with a few practical ways we can help improve tourism and make it more sustainable (sorry, I’m not a fan of long articles). In the meanwhile, I would love to know what you guys think about this issue and if there is anything we can do to change things.

Prisoner of Hope

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Zachariah 9:12, The Bible

I usually write about travels. I’m a travel blogger… or at least I’m trying to be one. But this post is about life!

This year has been marked by uncertainty from day one. End of May, I’m wondering if things can get more confusing than they are at the moment. But in the midst of it all I learned that I can find perfect peace in trusting God and who he is and I learned that there is hope in his promises and joy in his presence.

When my eyes are set on Jesus, I feel stuck in peace. A prisoner of hope!

Chieri, Italy – Lesser Known Places

Raise your hand if you have ever heard of Chieri!

No, you’re not ignorant. Nobody has heard of it, except people who live there. Yet Chieri is a truly dreamy place and, therefore, perfect for my “Lesser Known Places” series.

Sustainable tourism

Mass tourism is rapidly destroying our world’s natural and historic treasures and I believe one way to make it more sustainable is to promote new places and divert tourist fluxes. And my job, as a travel blogger, is to help you discover hidden gems that deserve a place on your travel wishlist.

Where in the world is that?

Chieri is a small town in the larger Turin Metropolitan Area, Italy, connected to Turin by bus n°30.

Though I had been to Chieri a few times before, I only discovered its beauty recently, when my sister decided to move there and I finally took the time to explore it.

BIG SURPRISE!

I was mesmerized! I did not know that, just a few kilometers from home, there was a small town concentrating untold stories and century-old churches.

Here are a few things you can expect to see in Chieri:

Chieri’s Duomo “Santa Maria della Scala” – an impressive late-gothic church built between the 14th and the 15th century…

Old streets where you can go for a walk and chill…

This arch, built in 1580 and located on Vittorio Emanuele II pedestrian street…

This scenic view…

…overlooked by a baroque and neoclassical church, whose first stone was laid back in 1145.

In downtown Chieri you will stumble upon historic buildings and century-old churches at every turn…

Who can resist the charm of an old Italian town?

Dummy can’t!

Safety in São Paulo

Hey peeps! I’m writing from Turin (Italy), the place that I used to call home for over 10 years and that I have to call home again. *sigh*

I’m between jobs, so I can’t really go anywhere for now, though my nomadic instincts make me want to evade. I guess I’ll just enjoy the beauty of home until I afford to travel again…

But hey, this post is about the mega, beautiful city of São Paulo!

In my last two posts I talked about what I liked about this city and I shared a 24h itinerary. This time I want to address a very important topic: SAFETY!

Choo-Choo Lucky-Lucky in Praça da Sé, São Paulo

PARANOIA

I visited South Africa last year and I got assaulted by a gang on the first day, about 30 minutes after starting exploring Pretoria. Great way to start a journey!

But I came out alive, so I can’t complain. However, this experience made me a lot more cautious when it comes to visiting places known for not being super safe.

So previous to my trip to São Paulo I started looking for information on safety and I got paranoid, since most v/bloggers talk about it like hell on earth.

IS IT THAT BAD?

Here’s the thing: there are NO-GO zones in São Paulo, no doubt about it, and you do have to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense, just like in any big city. But is it really that bad?

NO!

If you are a tourist and your goal is to visit the main attractions Sampa has to offer, you don’t need to worry too much.

So here are a few tips that will help you stay safe and enjoy your journey without unwanted surprises.

SAFETY TIPS FOR TOURISTS

  • Beco do Batman, Ibirapuera Park, Avenida Paulista are safe during the day
  • Avenida Paulista becomes very lively after dark and going for a walk even during late hours should not be a problem
  • The downtown area is pretty safe during the day but I don’t recommend going there after dark
  • Beware of snatchers if you are trying to take photos in Praça da Sé.
  • Though people use their mobile phones in public, try not to flash your expensive electronic devices and/or jewelry too much.
  • Book your hostel/hotel in a safe place. I stayed at a hostel in Jardins, which is arguably the safest neighborhood in SP. I highly recommend it, since it is safe even after dark and close to the center (my hostel was at a 10min walk from Avenida Paulista). Hotel rooms can be pricy here but hostels are affordable.

I’m not an expert on safety but trust me, there’s no need to get paranoid about São Paulo. Just be smart!

24 Hours in São Paulo

Yes, I know what you are thinking: “São Paulo is huge! How much can you really see in 24 hours?”

Indeed, São Paulo is an endless jungle made of concrete, asphalt and human beings, but with a good planning you can carve your way through it and discover the beauties hidden in the tangle.

I spent 3 days in Sampa (as locals call it), but I was there for a fair, so the time I could dedicate to exploring was rather limited. But I was lucky enough to have my “personal guide” for the first two days: a local friend and ex-university colleague, whom I was really happy to hang out with!

So if you happen to visit this beautiful city but you are in a rush, here is an itinerary that can help you make the most of your time.

ITINERARY

1Start from Beco do Batman. If you visit it in the morning, chances are there won’t be many people around and you will be able to get a nice view and nice shots of the main graffitis. This place gets lively at night, since there are many bars and pubs around but, from what I heard, it can get rather crowded. Spend 1 – 1.5 hours here.

2Ibirapuera Park. A beautiful green oasis in the middle of a huge metropolis! This is an amazing place to go for a walk, relax and enjoy both nature and the urban skyline. It’s not far from Beco do Batman and you can either take a bus or Uber (which is pretty affordable in Brazil) to get there. I’d suggest you spent 2-3 hours here. The Afro Brazil Museum is located inside the park. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit it so if you get a chance to go there I’d be happy to know what you think about it.

3Praça da Sé and Downtown São Paulo. Visit the cathedral and the beautiful plaza in front of it. From there you can walk to the main attractions the downtown area has to offer: São Francisco and São Bento Monasteries, Pátio do Colégio, República, Liberdade (the Japanese district). Be aware of your surroundings, especially when you take your phone or camera out to take pictures and try not to go there at night. But don’t get paranoid about safety! Three hours should be enough to visit the downtown area.

4AVENIDA PAULISTA. You can’t miss this one. Enjoy a stroll along one of the most iconic boulevards in South America. If you want to get a really nice view of the avenue and the surrounding area go to SESC Building’s last floor (for free!). I suggest going there late afternoon so you can get both a daytime and nighttime view of São Paulo. Your Instagram followers will thank you!

There is much more to São Paulo than just the places listed above, no doubt about it! Yet you don’t need that much time to visit the main attractions.

If you want to know more about my impressions on São Paulo click here. In my next post I will address a very important topic when it comes to visiting Sampa: safety!

Five Things I Loved About São Paulo

I got to spend 3 days in São Paulo earlier this month (April 2019). I love Brazil, so this was a real treat for me!

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from it since most of the reviews I read were rather negative. Yet I was pleasantly surprised!

I know 3 days are not enough to really get to know the city and the local culture, so my impressions might be a bit superficial, yet if I liked it, there might be other people that would find it interesting too.

So here we go…

1HUGE CITY – While this might be a turndown for some people, it is something that intrigues me a lot! São Paulo, Shanghai, London, Paris… bring them on! I love getting lost in a big city! Skyscrapers everywhere, amazing skyline (especially at night), lots of people and fast-paced everything (except traffic at rush hour)… I’m sold!

2INCREDIBLY DIVERSE PEOPLEPaulistanos are very racially mixed and diverse, so wherever you come from and whatever your ethnic background is, you will not stand out! You can be black, white, yellow, red or green with purple polka dots – you will look paulistano!

3GREAT SUSHI – “Wait, what!?” Ok, sushi might not be a national dish in Brazil, but São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese diaspora, which has been present there for 2-3 or more generations now. Therefore, sushi is not just very common, it also tastes amazing.

4NATURE AND TROPICAL FEEL – As soon as I got outside of Guarulhos Airport I was welcomed by trees and a very green view, which combined perfectly with the hot and humid weather. Yes, São Paulo is a concrete jungle, yet there are pockets of nature around that make you forget about the city’s hustle and bustle.

5NICE PEOPLE – Brazilians are probably the nicest people on planet Earth. Every person I met in São Paulo was really down to earth, friendly and easy going! Kudos Brazilians!

In my next posts I’ll share with you a 24-hour itinerary and some tips on staying safe, so stay tuned!

Have you ever visited Sao Paulo or any other Brazilian city? What were your impressions?

Lesser Known Places: The Land of the Teeny-Weeny (Part 2)

In the first part of this article I introduced you to Chiquitania, a fascinating region in Eastern Bolivia, that is still rather unknown and underrated.

But being underrated might be a good thing: it is unspoiled by mass tourism and it preserves much of its authenticity. So hurry up and visit it before it gets too popular!

This post is meant to give you a few practical tips for visiting Chiquitania and doing the Missional Tour (the tour of the Jesuit reductions).

Three-day Itinerary

If you want to discover the depth of the local culture, unveil the mystery of the Jesuit Reductions and immerse in the beauty of the landscape, I’d suggest you spent 3 days traveling the Chiquitania.

Day 1: San Javier and Concepción

Day 2: San Ignacio and San Miguel

Day 3: San Rafael and San José de Chiquitos

Though I highly recommend the 3-day itinerary, if you don’t have much time you can do a day-trip to Concepcion, or San Javier and Concepcion.

The main attraction in each village is the church. Yes, they are all very similar to one another (except the one in San José), yet they are all unique when it comes to details. Each village tells the same story, but each one in a different way. You can see this in the patterns featured on churches and houses and in the harmonious mix of European, criollo and indigenous styles.


SAN JAVIER

San Javier is the “gateway” to the Chiquitania and it was the first reduction built in what now is known as Bolivia.

Transportation: there are busses that leave every 2 hours from Terminal Bimodal in Santa Cruz (salidas provinciales), starting from 7:30am – look for the ticket office of TransGuarayos. There are also trufis (collective vans) that leave all day long as soon as they fill up. Trufis are generally faster but more expensive and more uncomfortable than busses.

Cost: 30 Bs for the bus, 35+Bs for the trufi

Time: 4 hours

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours

Tourist attractions: the church, the museum annexed to it, the house of General Busch (a Bolivian statesman) and the mirador (a small park featuring some rock formations).


CONCEPCION

This is my favorite Chiquitano village and the one I got to visit the most times. Take some time to stroll on the streets around the plaza and soak in the uniqueness of the village.

Transportation: the same busses and trufis that go from Santa Cruz to San Javier go all the way to Concepción. You can wait for them at the small bus terminal on the main street in San Javier.

Cost: 10 Bs for the bus, 10+ Bs for the trufi

Time: 1 hour

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours

Accommodation: there are many hotels around with prices usually ranging from 30 to 100 Bs per person, per night. During national holidays, however, the village fills with tourists from Santa Cruz and prices double.

Tourist attractions: the church, the museum and the represa, a water dam where you can chill and enjoy the blue water and the green surroundings. Beware of piranhas if you decide to take a dip!

SAN IGNACIO

I didn’t expect much from San Ignacio, yet it was a very pleasant surprise! The village was bigger than I thought, clean and very pretty. It’s central plaza is probably the most beautiful among all the Chiquitano villages and the church did not let me down either.

Transportation: there are only trufis that go between Concepcion and San Ignacio. Make sure you ask what time the trufi leaves the following day, as soon as get to Concepcion, since there are only a few rides a day. They leave from the “surtidor” (the local gas station).

Cost: 50Bs

Time: 2.5 hours

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours

Tourist attractions: the church, the plaza, the water dam and Cueva de Yeso (Gypsum Cave) on the other side of the dam. This is a nice place where you can relax and enjoy a little bit of fresh air during hot days. Also, check out the ice cream shop on the left side of the church. They serve really good açaí.

SAN MIGUEL

The road between San Ignacio and San Miguel is not paved yet and San Miguel is much more rural than the previous 3 villages. It is here where you will start to feel that you are actually in a really remote place.

Transportation: there are trufis, at the terminal in San Ignacio, that leave for San Miguel as soon as they fill up.

Cost: 12 Bs

Time: 1 hour

Time needed to visit the village: 1 hour

Accomodation: there are not many hotels around. Half block from the plaza you can find one that has rooms starting from 40Bs per person. They also offer a very delicious and complete local breakfast for an extra 20 Bs.

Tourist attractions: the church is the only attraction in San Miguel. It stood out to me for it’s intense colors and the beautifully ornamented interior. The village is very pretty but I think it is worth spending more time in San Ignacio, as there is a wider range of restaurants and tourist attractions, and only briefly visit San Miguel.

SAN RAFAEL

Just like San Miguel, San Rafael feels very rural and remote, yet I do recommend stopping here, on you way to San José.

Transportation: there are trufis leaving twice a day from the main plaza in San Miguel and going to San Rafael. Make sure you find out what time it leaves and you buy your ticket as soon as you get in San Miguel. When I visited, the first trufi left at 11:20am, and then there was a second one at around 2pm. But timetables are subject to changes.

Cost: 12 Bs.

Time: 1 hour

Time needed to visit the village: 1 hour

Tourist attractions: the only thing you can visit here is the church which, by the way, closes at lunch time – and that’s exactly when I went to visit. One thing I noticed is that there are not many many eating options around.

SAN JOSE DE CHIQUITOS

Out of all the Chiquitano villages, San José is definitely the biggest. It is almost urban I’d say. Also, the church was one of the last ones to be built and it is the biggest and most unique one among all the Chiquitano churches. It doesn’t resemble any of them.

Transportation: there are trufis from San Rafael to San José. Make sure you buy your ticket as soon as you get in San Rafael.

Cost: 50 Bs

Time: 2.5-3 hours (mostly on dirt road)

Time needed to visit the village: 2+ hours.

Tourist attractions: the church, the museum – which I highly recommend – and Santa Cruz la Vieja (some ruins in the place where Santa Cruz was first located), just outside San José, which I didn’t get to visit. Around the plaza there are many eating options.

At the bus terminal in San José there are trufis leaving all day long for Santa Cruz. Depending on the season, they costs from 40 to 80 Bs.

Mototaxis

In every village there are mototaxis that can take you around for 3 Bs. They might ask for more if you need to go a longer distance (like from the plaza to the water dam in Concepcion or from the plaza to the terminal in San Ignacio).

Beware that timetables and prices might change over time. I did the tour in March 2019, and at that time 1 Bs was around 0.14 USD.

So…

If these posts and my pictures did not convince you, then just trust my word: Chiquitania is amazing! Hurry up and go visit!

Three days, 1000 km, ten thousand emotions and countless stories to tell.