Saturday, August 29, 2015

Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya

Nodame Cantabile Vol. 25Nodame Cantabile Vol. 25 by Tomoko Ninomiya
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nodame Cantabile is a manga that could become a classic.
I read the whole story, 25 numbers, just rushing through every volume, fascinated by the setting and the characters.
The setting is a bit peculiar: the protagonists are students of a musical university. Classical music is what keeps all of them together. Nodame and Shiniki are the main protagonists and their love story starts and continue in a rather unpredictable manner, drown in small hilarious scenes that gives a realistic depth to them.
The characters are not drown in a very fancy way, despite that it is a modern style that is light and gives space to some little fashion touch. I think what is the most amazing part of the drawings is the details about the instruments, which are incredibly accurate and beautiful.
There are many characters that are presented in the story, but despite that one doesn't get too disoriented, on the other hand, it was nice to have some variation.
There were some chapters that had a bit slower pace than others, with a tiny tendency to be a bit too repetitive. Luckily, there were also many unexpected events that gave energy to the whole plot.
I really enjoyed reading Nodame Cantabile. It made me goes back on when I was studying at the conservatory and it made me realize how much I have missed playing the piano and how much beautiful the classical music can be. Not only, the passion and stubborness that characterizes all the characters made them admirable and inspired me.
Pity though that the last two volumes were focusing too much on the Opera and too little on Nodame and Shiniki. After all, after so many volumes, one would have expected a bit more classical ending, an official proposal, maybe a kid, or at least, the concert done together.
I would definitely recommend this manga, for the interesting story, but also for the humoristic side of it and for opening the doors to the world of the classical music, which is too often left just for a bunch of elite people.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Summer holidays in Syracuse

For the first time ever, we decided to slighty change our summer plans and take a small detour, only for us, in order to actually have some form of vacation.
We looked for sandy beaches, with shallow and warm water, not too far off our usual destination and, considering that Mattias had wished for years to visit Syracuse, we thought that the area was the right place for us.

After some minor search, we booked at the hotel Valle di Mare, also because, choosing as period high season, it was hard to find a place in any place.
The resort was dislocated in a peaceful area, was not too bad, but left us disappointed in some aspects.
If you are interested in reading all the details of our staying there, you can check out my Tripadvisor Review.
We looked at this hotel because it was closed to Fontane Bianche, a small town 20 minutes away from Syracuse, with the type of beach we were searching.

Fontane Bianche, looking south

Fontane Bianche, looking north
The beach was the high point of our little holiday. Especially in the morning, the sea looked almost caribbean (not that I have been to the Caribbean, but...). Of course, it was a bit crowded during the weekend, but especially early in the morning it was wonderful to be in the warm water.
Lido Fontane Bianche
The majority of the people at the beach were definitely locals, there were few foreigners and this, according to me, was a quite good aspect (even though, during the weekend, it became a little bit too noisy for our taste).
We used the services offert by a "Lido" (an organized beach), simply because we had no clue of how things would look like and I think the choice was ok, considering.
It was also entertaining, since every day, around 10:30, two people from the Lido staff, would organize an acquagym. One of the two, a guy was just a pleasure to watch dancing, since he had an amazing rythm sense.
We also had the lunch at the Lido, which was possibly not the cheapest solution, but the most practical one and afterall, we managed to find something to eat for all of us. Isabella, for example, wanted to eat the local salsiccia....

One day, we had to withdraw some money, but there would be no cash dispenser available in Fontane Bianche and we got redirected to Cassibile. The place looked almost like the Far West and, although afterwards, I have found out that it is a quite crucial place from an historical point of view (a WWII armstice was signed there), it looked desolated and terrible. We didn't manage to find any cash dispenser there either, since the only bank had been robbed recently (...).
We finally got our money in Avola, which from the car, looked very pretty and I am sure we will try to visit it more in the future.

The last day of our extra holiday, we went to Syracuse, aiming at the Ortygia island. I had no idea really what to expect, but we got recommended to go there from the hotel receptionist (the other alternative was the archaeological park).
We were really not disappointed by our choice since Ortygia is amazing and we were happy we managed to pay a short visit there - I am sure we will try to return also there!

We found that there were plenty of archaeological sites also there and the whole island is full of beautiful streets, were old and new buildings melt in a quite harmonic way (90% of the times, which is a quite high rate), despite the heat and the sun, everything looked pitoresque and it was a pity we didn't have too much time because there would have been a lot more to explore.

Apollo's Temple
We looked at some ruins, like some rests of the ancient wall and the Apollonion, Apollo's Temple. From there, we moved towards the cathedral, walking by ancient buildings and beautiful squares.
Piazza Archimede with Diana Fountain
A narrow street
The whole place gave us a great sensation, with a decently peaceful atmosphere (ok, it was a monday and there were 700 degrees, but still, I would have expected tons of tourists challenging the weather), clean street and some cute cats.

The cathedral is on the left
A column from V century A C integrated in the church
The only visit we paid was to the Cathedral, which was in an high point of the island, facing a wide square, in company of other beautiful buildings. Unfortunately, the lack of vegetation made the stay there quite painful since the sun was unmerciful.
The cathedral is on the right, now.
Part of the cathedral facade. I managed to catch the same tourists in two pictures.
The inside of the Cathedral was quite interesting and beautiful. It is a pity we didn't have any guidebook or any major information because it seems that its history was quite interesting. The coolest aspect was that it was built over the Athena's temple and its column were integrated in the church construction.

Piazza Duomo
We aimed then at find the Fonte Aretusa, a very peculiar sweet water source, which is just next to the sea. There, there were a lot of small restaurants, and although we knew we were entering the domain of the tourist traps, we sat at the first place.
The restaurant, Spizzica al Vecchio Lavatoio, was very average and offered very warm seating, however had a great view.
We really didn't have the luxury to seek any better place, so we got a quick meal there and we took bravely the way back at the warmest hours of the day.

View from the restaurant
 Although quite short, we did enjoy our walk in Ortygia and we hope that we will have the opportunity to visit it few more tiimes!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The The Hague - Amsterdam Tour in June

After few years of assuring a couple of friends of ours that we would visit them in The Netherlands, where they live, we finally decided to keep our promise and we mobilitate the troups in June.
We were there just few days during which we spent most of the time trying to feed and put to bed four kids, admire The Hague beach and had a long walk in Amsterdam.

For me it was the absolute first time in The Netherlands, so I was in observation mode. Mattias had already been there, but got surprised by a couple of things or two as well.
In general, I didn't find enormous differences (if we don't consider Amsterdam, that is) with Sweden. The suburbs of The Hague where they live reminded me of Sweden, with a British touch though. The area was architecturally speaking very nice, quite new buildings in some form of old style, but with the streets having space for pedestrian/bikes, green areas with playgrounds and recycling bins there and then.
I really enjoyed walking around the area, which was quite peaceful (except when some house in the surroundings threw a party) and very child friendly. However, no shops where there and one had to walk few minutes to reach a center which offered shops of all kind.

Suburbs of The Hague
The closest playground
A serie of similar houses

The house where the party was!
During the Sunday, they brought us to The Hague's enormous beach. Thinking that all of that is practically artificial makes me mesmerized! 
Before reaching the beach, it was lunch time and they let us discover Simonis, a fantastic fish restaurang which I'd like to import to Sweden!
We put our feet in Simonis and our jaws fell to the ground
There is plenty of wonderful sea food to eat and we surely didn't spare ourselves in the orders. Although it was a lot of fried fish and french fries, there were also other kind of dishes and we loved every second of it! 
We definitely ate the best plate of oysters, together with fried mussels, woked shrimps, and a lot of other dishes. 
The place is a bit rustic, but it greatly fits with the idea that one is eating freshly caught fish.

A bad photo of the catch of the day
The beach per se' is just huge. We didn't get close to the water (I counted that the temperature would be cold) and we limited ourselves to walk on the sand and pick up some shells. I bet that during the few days of warmth in summertime, this stretch of sand is covered by people sunbatching. Already when we were there, although it was windy and of my taste too cold, there were few people that were doing that.

Scheveningen Beach with the sea

View over Scheveningen beach

People playing some very funny form of football on the beach
On the Monday we ventured on a short visit to Amsterdam, which however left us quite shocked.
It is true that we are quite conservative people, but we have a decent level of tolerance.
Unfortunately, the general atmosphere of the city left us disappointed.

The town is beautiful, it has wonderful buildings and possibly an interisting history, but it seems that all of its beauty is attenuated or even drowning in the cannabis culture. Which is sad. That there are coffee shops we surely knew about that, but that there are tons of shops that are selling all sort of souvenirs with such theme was quite a surprise. Is it possible that Amsterdam shall be just identified with a hemp lollipop?

Dam Square
We ate nearby Dam Square, in the restaurant floor of a mall nearby. There were tons of other places around there, but we didn't want to end up in any tourist trap and, since we are usually quite picky and undecisive, we didn't want to end up starving until too late (with the kids this is not anymore an option).

We checked many roofs and I liked this big church and its tower bell, whose name I don't know.
We walked, and walked, and walked, which was not exactly the best thing to do with Isabella. Oscar slept half of our tour, so he had less complaints.
We had no specific target, but at a certain point we were undecised if we should go inside a museum or to the botanical garden and we aimed at this, to then discover that the entrance price was almost prohibitive and we gave up trying to find our way back towards the train station.

Typical buildings: high and narrow and with a strange construction in the center of the roof. Maybe something used for lifting furniture during a move?

Old and new buildings, sorrounding channels

On the other side of the street, The Rembrandt House Museum

We saw a nice building in Nieuvmarkt and we continues towards the station. It looked like we were in Chinatown since plenty of asiatic restaurants were a bit everywhere, but as soon as we entered a narrow alley moving towards another big building (Oude Kerk) we froze (or better, we froze "inside" but we walked very fast) since, without realizing it at first, we entered the Red Light District (De Wallen).
This was not only a shocking view because of the concept itself (women were doing everything possible to sell their bodies showing themselves through glass doors) but for the hour. We were in the middle of the day and it looked like there was plenty of activities.

The stations
After this, we took a short break on the church's benches and we decided that we had seen enough and turned our intentions towards the airport, by taking the train.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Stradnära EKO-cafe', a little pearl in Öland

Few weeks ago we took our summer trip to Kalmar. We decided to take also a little tour to Öland to do something different and show something to the kids.
Of course, both kids fell asleep as we were driving so we didn't manage to do any sightseeing, but we were counting and somewhat hoping on that.
We had two hungry kids (and we were ourselves very hungry) searching for a cosy place that would serve some food and not just pastries or small sandwiches while we were on our little road trip.
After some disappointing search (which included a stop to Capellagården because Mattias was having some vague memory they had some form of cafe' there), we finally ended up at Strandnära Kafe', just out of luck.
The place is also an hostel and a B&B.
Historical notes about the place

More history
The place in itself is very cosy and old style which was very welcoming. The interior of the cafe' is in shabby chic style and there is an high care for details. Old pictures are placed on the wall to tell the story of the place and, if we would have been having a little bit more time, we would have probably been reading everything properly.
Cosy interior

Nice to sit inside, as well as outside

The cafe' is also a small shop focusing on organic products, as the food they sell. This was for us very interesting and it locked of course our attention. Not that we bought anything in the shop, but the fact that the food was having this footprint was of course pleasant. If I remember right, it was also steering mostly towards vegetarian food as well . There should be tons of places like this especially in Öland!

The shop
We took a portion of pancakes for the kids and there was a nice soup for us.
The presentation was great and the food tasted amazing. Our daughter was very satisfied of her meal (infact, she took portion of her brother's as well).
The only bad note was that the price was a bit high and the portion (considering that it was a soup) not that big, which for us that love food, was a bit of a disappointment, since we were hungry afterwards.

Anyway, I loved the concept and the care that the owners have put in trying to make the customer comfortable.
We were very lucky in finding such a place and I guess that with a little bit of search we would have maybe found something similar somewhere else.
But it was very hard to find some proper lunch place open for us (and yes, lunch is not about taking a couple of buns or some dry sandwhich with an overrated coffee, I will keep stressing this concept) and I would just wish there would be more places like that in Öland. 
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Årstiderna i Kocksa Huset

One of Mattias' 40 years old presents was a Smartbox restaurant visit. By that time Oscar was one month old and we thought that there would have been maybe a better time to enjoy a nice dinner later on.
Unfortunately, it is not that with age Oscar has gained wiseness - although Isabella did, so stressed by the expiration date, we chose the perfect phase for a toddler: "I have just started to walk and I need to explore the world. Especially the stairs, if any".

We did have to choose a restaurant not too far off, so that we would not be too late home with two tired kids and starting our mission at 17:30 we counted on not disturbing too many other customers.

Mattias' restaurant choice was Årstiderna I Kocksa Huset, a quite well known restaurant in Malmö which is situated in the basement of Jörgen Kocks Gård. The atmosphere is elegant and possibly, we were quite some white flies in the common customers there. Despite the kids being allover the place from the very beginning, the staff was very hearty but a bit detached .

Our menu was prefixated by the Smartbox option but we could choose between a fish or a meat main dish and we took one of each in order to taste both options.
As pre-appetizer we got a nice shrimp sallad which was served in fancy spoons. It was very pleasant and luckily, nothing suitable for the kids, so we had double portion of it.
Shrimp sallad on a spoon
 The appetizer didn't wait too long to arrive, and it was followed by two Wallenbergare (a sort of fancy big meatball/hamburger) for the kids which we also got the chance to ate in good quantity.
For us, instead, there was "Lobster and scallop with cream of root vegetable and lobster's foam".
The scallop was sublime, the lobster was indeed just a piece of a claw and it didn't impress me that much. Same destiny for the lobster's foam which, although tasty, had a strong not-genuine-stock taste (but I can be easily wrong on this).
A too bright picture for the appetizer
 The two main dishes took a bit long to arrive at our table and we were started all to become a bit restless. Oscar decided that he couldn't sit anylonger and hence, one of us, in turns, had to accompany him in the building exploration.
My fish was served with risotto (Why!?!? Oh, why!?!??! Risotto is NOT to be served with a second dish!). The risotto per se' tasted (again) of the not-genuine-stock which I am not very fond of...
The fish was ok, but nothing that gave me any unforgettable memories, in fact, I don't even remember if it was a monkfish or what....
The fish
 Instead, Mattias was more lucky and his reindeer's fillet baked with herbs and served with mushroom ragu and black currants sauce was the star of the evening. I was very glad that Oscar took Mattias away, so that I could enjoy this delicious dish in peace!
The reindeer's fillet

Unfortunately, the kids started to become very tired and therefore unmanageable by the dessert, which was slowly served (the restaurant started to get crowded). Luckily, the dessert was a delicious composition of buckthorn icecream, chocolate mousse and creme brulee' so that the kids could be quiet and still for those few minutes we needed to finish, pay the most expensive water in the world (60 kr for sparkling tap water? You are fancy, yes, but you must be kidding, right?), dress the brigade and leave...

I guess one day we will come back and we will be more part of the crowd. Elegant (?) white haired ladies and gentlemen...
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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Claudine, by Riyoko Ikeda

クローディーヌ・・・! クローディーヌ・・・! by Riyoko Ikeda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For how wonderful the drawings are, I think the main story of this volume, Claudine, is a bit too quickly defined. Too many events happened in a too short time and the role of some characters is unclear.
Unfortunately, I think that the story lacks originality and the right story telling for being interesting, but one surely get caught and remained fascinated by how beautiful the drawings are.
In the same style are the two other short stories that follow Claudine. They are connected to one of Ikeda's main manga, Orpheus. The story development is as always full quite tragic events, though differently from Claudine, I did enjoy them more.
I was also very surprised by the final touch given to the story, which with a little bit of humour makes up for all the gloomy and serious tone. I thought at first that was a bit ouf of place, considering the general mood in which the stories were set, but then I realized that it was an excellent way to break the desolation and lead the plot development to a lighter path.
For all the Ikeda's fans I think this is a nice way to admire her beautiful drawings and read, once again, about such desperate lovestories. However, I can easily understand that they would be considered average by an "average" reader and that he could be put off track by the main themes of such stories. In Claudine, as in Versailles no Bara, we have a girl who is struggling with her sexuality, but here it is obvious that she has no intention to be like a girl and on the other hand wants to be like her father.
In the short stories connected to Orpheus, we have the unhappy relationships where two brothers end up falling in love, without being aware of their kinship.
Though, this is nothing so out of line to read in Ikeda's stories (or in many shojo manga).

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Marine Blue no Kaze ni Dakarete, by Ai Yazawa

Marin Burū No Kaze Ni Dakarete n. 4Marin Burū No Kaze Ni Dakarete n. 4 by Ai Yazawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely far from the most known Ai Yazawa's works, especially for what concerns the plot quality.
It is clear that it is one of her earlier works, since the drawing is very different from what we are used to, said this though it doesn't mean that it is bad or unpleasant, on the other hand, it is still not close to the more traditional style and the character expressions are beautiful depicted.
Though, the characters are not that enjoyable according to me. The protagonist whines and flees from feelings and situations for 3/4 of the story, she is not showing any great quality and she definitely thinks too much - although, finally, she steps up and develop a little.
The male main characters are almost immaculate, they are shown as heroes, there are no big weaknesses in them. Even their rivary is too good to be true. It is also questionable to think, in my opinion, that these young teenagers are reasoning around their "problems" as adults and I think this makes the story lacking the freshness that it should be associated considering the title of it.
Moreover, I have noticed that the first two numbers were nicer than the last two, where the plot becomes pretty trivial and there is no big excitement around the events. I thought at the end the story, which started instead with the right food, was quite dull and boring. Luckily, it was just 4 books :-)

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Italian carnival - St Rhemy en Bosses

Here in Sweden there is no real carnival tradition. Or better, there is, but it is just a mimic of what we have in the countries where this exists and it doesn't happen at the right time of the year or not even every year.
In Lund they do organize a carnival, which is a "procession" of big wagons where the students are dressed up as something. This parade is nothing usually very fancy. The students they have possibly a good time, but for a person coming from Italy, this is a bit odd. Or at least, it was for me when I assisted to the first and only Lundakarnevalen in the far 2002.

Anyway, since our kids are half italians, we thought that they need to get some experience of something that it is instead very normal from an Italian point of view.
We do celebrate carnival every year, just before the Lent start. In fact, the idea behind the Carneval is to enjoy before those forty days of preparation to Easter, when one should fast and do penance.
For the Roman Catholic tradition, the big day is Shrove Tuesday and the weekend before that, in most cities some parade is organized.

Where I grow up, big wagons where organized processing around the town with people dressed up in all sort of masks. The kids throws confetti and streamers, the wagons themes are usually a parody of something political, but they are pretty advanced.
We chose to combine our "carnival trip" with a visit to the Alps and in the town where we were, St Rhemy en Bosses, there is the tradition to mimic instead Napoleon.
Napoleon and his troops, during 1800, they came through the Saint Bernard Pass for fighting the Austrian army. Without going into too many historical details, this has been of course a very important event for the valley.

Napoleon and his troops in the small hamlet of Cerisey
What we assisted was a small reenactment of the napoleonic army, where each soldier had a mask on.
They arrived in a small open space, dance a little and then they mainly ate and drank, joking with the people who were looking at the parade (and eating as well).

Isabella was unfortunately totally frightened and cried most of the time. A car with the loudspeakers arrived before the soldiers and the wind sound scared her off. The masks also didn't make her feel more relaxed.
Oscar instead ended up in the arms of Napoleon. Well, almost as history teaches ;-)
The soldiers are eating.
Napoleonic troops

Napoleon is taking a break
As far as I have understood, the carnival in Saint Rhemy en Bosses is organized so that the people who are representing Napoleon and his troops move from hamlet to hamlet and when they are in a place they enjoy eating, dancing and having fun.
With the army and Napoleon there are also some other masks, like the devil, which are part of the parade.
This was very different from what I have been growing up with, so it was a new experience also for me.
First of all, there was basically noone. Few locals and us were expecting the parade. This made it cosy and also more enjoyable since there was definitely no confusion.
The lack of wagons was a big difference, but I do understand that with small roads and a lot of uphills they couldn't have had the big things that there are in the bigger towns.
The nicer touch was that we also had the possibility to eat some food. Nice home baked apple pies, wonderful salame and mocetta, local cheeses. Water, sodas and even wine was served. At least, with the chips Isabella finally could enjoyed a bit.
One of the several plates of food we shared
The hope we have is that if we will manage to assist to this in other occasions, Isabella will be more relaxed. Now, we also know what to expect, so for sure we will be prepared to eat a lot! Afterall, everyone thinks that Mattias is French and hence he is being honored as such!

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