Tag Archives: Shopping

The Many Faces of Milan.

Italy’s financial center and fashion capital, Milan, was the hub of my recent trip to Italy.  It is a fascinating and stylish mix of old world charm and modern design. Although my stay there was mostly work related (no I don’t work in finance or fashion, but they also host one of the top ranked European business schools), I will share a few experiences and observations I made while crisscrossing the city.

Milano Centrale statues MilanA pleasant surprise, a treat actually, came on my second day in Milan. A memorable dinner at Castello Visconteo. This castle, built in the 14th century, is just over an hour’s drive from Milan. Incredibly charming and a bit mysterious when you arrive at night.

castello Visconteo at night Milan

coutyard of Castello Visconteo MilanI couldn’t get enough of the beautiful decorations, still partly preserved on the walls and ceilings.

a room at Castello Visconteo Milan

the ceiling of the hall in Castello Visconteo MilanAnd the 5-course candlelit dinner was delicious, traditional dishes from Lombardy accompanied by Tuscan wines.

my dinner table at Castello Visconteo MilanI couldn’t take too many pictures at the table, but had to sneak a shot of this perfect Italian version of Crème Brule.

creme brule at Castrello Visconteo MilanOnce my work was done and I had some time to look around, I  realized Milan was quite a green city. And I don’t mean the parks. I noticed that people had surrounded themselves with greenery right where they lived. Rooftop gardens, terraces and balconies with green plants were everywhere. I started snapping pictures of a them as I passed different buildings in the city center. Here’s a small sample.

Roof garden Milan_edited-2

another building with trees Milan_edited-1

another roof garden Milan_edited-2

balconies in Milan_edited-1

 

green balcony Milan

Another roof garden in MilanThe most amazing green buildings I encountered, however, were the two towers of Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) opened in 2014. Together, these two residential high-rise buildings host over 100 apartments and 20,000 plants, among them about 900 trees. I could only get a picture of one of them, but you’ll get the idea.

Bosco Verticale Vertical Forest in Milan_edited-1These trees, shrubs and other plants fight air pollution. They can transform approximately 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into oxygen each year. Quite amazing, isn’t it? Needless to say, I was impressed by these green marvels, designed by the Italian architect Stefano Boeri and a large team of specialists.

Milan’s financial power and famous design were evident in the many modern glass towers reaching up towards the sky in the city center.

glass building Milan

modern skyscraper Milan

skyscraper MilanFrom looking up, I went to looking down. The traffic scene on any street always included scooters. In fact, one could see long lines of them for rental at some street corners.

scooter lady MilanAnd I noticed the many innovative parking practices. Here just one example.

smart parking ItalyFrom looking down, I went to looking through…the shop windows at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the worlds oldest shopping mall.

vittorio emanuele II MilanIts construction started in 1865, but there was nothing old-fashioned about it. This mall housed shops of the famous designers of our time.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II MilanI went window shopping and saw whimsical fashion creations…some more suitable for the cat walk than my walk-in closet. Or my wallet.

prada fashions Milan

fashion 3 Milan_edited-1And I saw winter gear in muted colors. More my style, with Florida length cropped pants and all, but my wallet still didn’t agree.

fashion 2 Milan_edited-1

winter fashion MIlan edited-1

fashion 1 in Milan_edited-1Some shops offered boots too…

boots Milan_edited-1…and I passed many windows exhibiting exuberant, colorful bags. The price tags were discretely tucked under the bags, and I guess for the typical customer the price didn’t really matter. I have never been a bag lady, but they were nice to look at.

Prada bag Milan

bags 3 Milan_edited-1

Armani bags Milan_edited-1

bags Milan

head gear in the window Milan_edited-2After seeing this pom-pom-fitted head-gear, I gave up. I would not leave with any of those fancy shopping bags with a world-famous designer’s name on it. So I walked out. And was faced with a wall of faces.

Faces of MIlan_edited-1A modern touch on old walls right next to Piazza del Duomo, which is the main city square in Milan. I walked closer and saw the Duomo, Milan cathedral, in all its beauty.

Duomo Milan_edited-1

detail of Duomo MIlan

main entrance of the Duomo MilanLots of people and pigeons outside, but the inside was very peaceful. I spent some time there in silent contemplation. And lit candles for each of the two men I lost recently.

detail 2 of Duomo MIlanWhen I came out I was greeted by a street musician and the many pigeons calling this square home.

Street musician MIlan

lion and pigeons at piazza del duomo MilanI noticed the lion was yawning…and took it as a sign it was time to catch a bus back to my hotel.

sightseeing bus MilanThank you for joining me on this mini-tour.  The always scary-looking beast, Mr. D., and I wish you all a wonderful Halloween week.

halloween Dylan 2017_edited-2

 

Going to Khan el-Khalili

As I wrote earlier, the fantastic shopping mall close to my hotel in Heliopolis, Cairo, did not offer much in terms of authentic Egyptian shopping experience. So one evening during my recent visit, I and a few friends decided to explore the largest and most famous market in Cairo, Khan el-Khalili.

Khan was established in the 14th century and has a history of flourishing trade for decades. It was called the Turkish Bazaar during the Ottoman period and has been refurbished numerous times over the decades. The market occupies several quarters in the Islamic part of Cairo, bustling with activity from early morning until very late at night. The bazaar district has unfortunately been subject to two attacks in the past 10 years, which has probably somewhat affected its popularity as a major attraction to visitors.

Khan el-Khalili

My first visit to this market was about 15 years ago so I was eager to see what, if anything had changed. Not much had. Maybe the commerce was a bit slower now, but the shops were full of merchandise from clothing and all kinds of household stuff to souvenirs, antiques and jewelery. The many coffee houses and street food vendors were busy even at the late hour of our visit. And the shop keepers were as eager as ever to advertise their merchandise.

Walking through the narrow streets and alleys, I was offered scarfs in many glorious colors and materials. I was wearing a scarf but the eager shop keepers tried to convince me I needed one in each color to match all my outfits as well as for use in different temperatures. But I passed on the offerings of beautiful scarfs as well as the exquisite belly dancing outfits. The latter were a bit too daring and much too unflattering even for my occasional Zumba class.

I was looking for a few small gifts that would fit in my purse as my poor carry-on was already overloaded and also overweight, as it proved out later.

There were numerous shops specializing in souvenirs, mostly replicas of famous ancient monuments and symbols or of figurines found in the tombs of the pharaohs. These souvenirs were made of various metals, bone, wood, stone and clay. Many were hand carved and some were beautifully painted by hand. In one of these shops, my friend found a couple of small scary-looking mummies in their colorful sarcophagi for her grandsons.

The antique shops were many too, literally overflowing with all kinds of “old stuff” from light fixtures, incense burners and jars to cameras, telephones, microscopes, dolls and old decorations, just to mention a few items. Stepping into these dusty shops was like stepping at least 100 years back in time.

Some of the antique shops also boasted nice collections of interesting old photographs and paintings in their original frames. One of my friends ended up adding a beautiful old photo to his daughter’s antique photo collection.

Many jewelery shops offered new fine jewelery, not much different from what one could find in any large city in this part of the world, but others were specialized in more traditional Egyptian silver jewelery, like the ones pictured below.

 I found a pair of beautiful traditional silver ear rings and an interesting key chain. As nothing here has a price tag, I had to hone my bargaining skills to get a “fair” price. Lots of interesting back and forth!

Of course I also wanted to add a couple of scarab beetles, mythical symbols of resurrection, transformation and protection, to our collection. Hundreds to choose from, and another bargaining session! I have to admit I’m still not very good at this “sport”, the shop keeper usually wins, at least that’s the feeling I’m left with most of the time.

A visit to Khan el-Khalili is in many ways an adventure, an excursion into the past and the present at the same time. I hope you liked your visit.

Modern Times

Cairo is a fascinating city, the largest in Africa and one of the largest, most densely populated and polluted in the world, with a population of over nine million.  The bustling city is located along the Nile River, about 100 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and close to many of Egypt’s historic sites. It is the political, economic, commercial, cultural and educational center of Egypt.

My third, recent visit to Cairo was quite different from the two previous ones. This time I didn’t stay in a small traditional “boutique” hotel in the buzzing city center or in one of the historic hotels in Giza close to the pyramids, but in the modern suburb of Heliopolis, established in the early 1900s in eastern Cairo, relatively close to the International Airport and about 30 minutes ride from the city center. My business clients as well as my hotel were both situated there.

The first thing that hit my eye as I was coming from the airport was the traffic. It had become even more congested since my last visit a few years ago. I didn’t think that would be possible, but obviously I was wrong. A myriad of cars were negotiating their way at each intersection (there are very few traffic lights in Cairo), traveling in high speeds in three lanes on a two lane street, and passing around each other horns blaring, many times with an inch or less to spare.  Most cars were newer models but many bore more or less visible signs of frequent close encounters.

Death-defying pedestrians crossing the streets between the vehicles added to the somewhat nervous excitement of travelling by car in Cairo. It’s a miracle that not more accidents happen, but I assume everyone is so accustomed to the unspoken rules of the road that somehow the traffic moves without a constant gridlock. The fast and the brave definitely rule the streets!

Cairo buildings 1 Heliopolis edited

The second thing that caught my eye was the frequency of many beautiful buildings, both residential and for office use, in this new part of Cairo.

Cairo building 2 Heliopolis

I learned that the specific style common in Heliopolis was a result of a merger of Moorish Revival, Persian Revival, traditional Arabic and European neoclassical architectural styles. These different styles were integrated successfully with an eye pleasing end result visible in the detailing of the facades. I also had an opportunity to visit a few newer buildings where the meld of these different styles had created stunning interior spaces with beautiful detailing and functional floor plans.

This part of the city is also diverse religion-wise, hosting mosques as well as Coptic and catholic churches.

Heliopolis is an affluent suburb, which also means it has modern shopping centers. To my surprise I encountered here the biggest and most extravagant shopping mall I have ever visited, the City Stars Mall. I ventured there to visit a restaurant serving Egyptian food, but that is probably the only authentic feature of the mall – it could be situated in any busy metropolitan city in the world.

This mall is huge, eight stories high above ground (if I counted correctly) and accommodates all possible designer shops and clothing stores you can imagine, shops for art, electronics, toys, you name it. It hosts a huge food court that could be found in any large mall anywhere in the world – complete with fast food from every thinkable country.

It also hosts many restaurants, some serving authentic Egyptian dishes and others featuring Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Mediterranean and American fare. Starbucks is also represented here, in the country of great Arabian coffee. Modern times indeed.

Due to a busy work schedule, I didn’t get an opportunity to visit the pyramids again on this trip, but I ventured to other parts of the city on some of the evenings after work for dining and more authentic shopping adventures. I will share some of these experiences in separate posts in the coming days.

Xmas Shopping Can Be…Hazardous?

This is a true story. Or rather a reality mini-series, taped yesterday and the day before. I didn’t even know I was casted for the role of the leading female character.  But obviously I was. To make a long story short, and as you have already missed the taping of the two episodes, I’ll start by telling the obvious: I survived to tell the story. And I promise to do the rest in fast forward.

part of the terrace all lit up

We had a fierce thunderstorm on Monday evening – with a tornado warning and all. Rare even for Florida in December, but there is was. Lightning show over the ocean. Rattling thunder and hard rain. I was talking to a good friend (hi Nina!) on the phone, just telling her about the spectacular sights, when the lights on our terrace suddenly went off. All 800 of them at the same time, without a blink. The terrace outside my office window was now lit only by the lightning. Oh well, we had lights inside. The weather continued most of the evening so I couldn’t go out to check what had gone wrong. Electricity and water don’t mix up that well.

my oversized coffee

So yesterday morning, after a huge mug of strong coffee, I did a couple of hours of unusual detective work. Started from the CFGI outlet. It had tripped. The question was why. I tested it using an old chandelier and it worked. Then I checked the three outdoor grade extension cords. All good. Finally I had to check each of the heavy-duty light sets, one by one…

purchases

They all worked individually, but put together they tripped the protection in the outlet.  Hmm. I then connected them in different sequences and finally found the culprit. Water had gone into one of the connectors. So while I had to work, I let it dry for a few hours in the bleak sunshine we had yesterday. No luck. So finally in the afternoon I decided a trip to the hardware store was in order. My little poodle wanted to come with me for a ride. He loves car rides and is excellent in guarding my old Ford, but for some odd reason I felt yesterday was not a good day to bring him along.

Bumble in my car, but not today

So I left alone. Found what I was looking for, a new extension cord and the last light chain of the type we had, and happily hurried to the register. There I am,  had just reached the cashier, when I hear a bang, something heavy dropping onto the floor behind me. And I feel it! My jeans are all wet on the back. I turn and look behind me. I find a scared-looking man and a huge canister of bleach on the floor…pouring out more bleach from the open top on my shoes.

Bleach

My almost new, light brown patterned jeans, were turning red…and as soon as they dried a bit…further to white. I think they call it bright white. Irregular highlights all over the back, some on the front. My black leather shoes were turning red too. And my legs were bathing in the disinfectant. I tell you it’s not a pleasant bath, but hopefully it was a bit purifying so my legs won’t get infected any time soon.

The poor guy was terrified too. He gave me his telephone number and promised to pay for a new pair of jeans. I didn’t show him the shoes so those will be my contribution to his recovery from the Xmas show he improvised in the hardware store.

Bye-bye favorite jeans

The next challenge, after patting myself a bit drier with paper towels, was to protect my car from unintentional bleaching. The store gave me four huge plastic bags so I could cover the floor and my seat from top to bottom. I’m happy Bumble didn’t need to ride home in the extremely heavy scent of clean. His brown coat might have gotten free highlights from the smell alone.

After a shower and clean trousers, socks and shoes, I was all new. With the added learning that shopping before Xmas should be avoided to the extent possible. Thank goodness for the internet. I will shop for new jeans now and tonight I will enjoy the all lit up terrace from my office window once more. And I don’t think I’ll call the guy. He already had his share of excitement.

Wishing you all a less adventurous shopping season, if you absolutely need to get out there. And for myself I just wish a very ordinary and booring December day. Ordinary is good and I’ll be grateful for that.