Glide Through Europe with 7 Travel Tips


Photo: Vadim Izoita

Everyone I know is traveling. I am too, although not via trains, planes, and automobiles, vicariously through them.  The sad thing with this kind of traveling is that my collection of travel advice is as idle as my unpacked suitcase. I would love to share it with you, perhaps you can make better use of it?

7 Travel Tips To Help You Glide Through Europe

My best tips came from, Mr. Basil Moutsatsos, my Greek Humanities teacher from way back. Since I’m not using them right now, maybe you can benefit from this brilliant travel advice:

  1. Always carry water and toilet paper. Lock bags and do not store anything in those little outside compartments of your luggage, they are pickpocket territory.  Watch your belongings closely.
  2. When searching for good quality food at good prices in a city such as Venice, look around until you spot an elderly woman confidently marching somewhere.  Follow her at a distance, if she enters a restaurant — go there!  Venerable local women may be trusted in this matter for two reasons: they do not eat bad food and they do not waste their money. 
  3. Do not dress like a tourist, leave the khaki shorts and binoculars at home, they are red flags for bulls.
  4. When traveling through beautiful, antiquated cities do not worry about getting lost.  Getting lost on the wrong side of Austria may open up a whole world of unmarked fineries to relish.  Do not waste the entire trip staring into a travel manual; look up, wander and stumble into things.
  5. When in France check if the person you wish to speak with knows English before offending him or her with amateur French. The French prize beauty and eloquence above all things and butchered French is neither beautiful nor eloquent.  They prefer to butcher your language rather than suffer the abuse of their own and as a guest— comply.
  6. If there is a language barrier, repeating the same phrase louder and louder with each repetition will not enhance communication, use hand gestures or consult Google.  Yelling at people in strange tongues is bad foreign relations.
  7. Do not point.  Do not stare and never ever climb public monuments—

Travel Away

Now that you have these morsels of travel advice, I hope you can put them to use. Happy traveling!

SEEING FICTION— 10 Best Literary Films


Photo: Jonas Hafner | This is captivating— thank you |

Most of what we see on screen is fiction. The creations of strategic marketing campaigns, press releases, and narrative fallacies which turn complex realities into soothing, but overly simplified stories. These creations are designed to shield us from the complications of the world around us.

After awhile, everything becomes a blur. That is why much of what’s on television does not fascinate me— it simplifies too much. But a good film is a work of art. Like a good book, it opens the mind, inspires creativity, and fascinates.

Movies based on literary classics top my list because when a timeless story gets told through film, the idea is not to create a book clone but to channel the story using a different medium. Each has its own merit. A movie complements a book— it never replaces it.

Here are ten literary adaptations that are worth seeing as much as they are worth reading:

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)— Based on Alexander Dumas’ classic.  The main character, Edmund Dumas takes us through a scarring adventure after being betrayed, leading to imprisonment by his best friend.

Anna Karenina (1997)— There are many adaptations of this Russian classic, but the 1997 version starring, Sophie Marcauex as Anna is elegant, beautiful, the best I’ve seen.

Onegin (2000)— Another Russian classic. This one is based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel set in verse, Eugene Onegin. The film will chill your body, and soul, starring Liv Tyler as Tatyana, and Ralph Fiennes as Eugene Onegin.

Жестокий романс (1984)— [RUSSIAN] Based on Alexander Ostrovsky’s classic play, Бесприданница (Without a Dowry). Very tragic, very Russian, and very beautiful.

Адмирал ( 2008)— [RUSSIAN] One of Russia’s highest budget films. It depicts the undoing of Russia’s golden age. The story is based on Admiral Kolchak’s battles and loves (plural).

Far from the Maddening Crowd (1967)— Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic. A remake of Far from the Maddening Crowd is scheduled for release May 2015 starring Carey Mulligan, but in the meantime, Julie Christie starring as Bathsheba is nostalgic, passionate, and very true to the book.

The House of Mirth (2000)— Set in America’s Belle Epoch and based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name. It is the tragic story of Lily Bart who finds herself trapped in the conventions and traditions of New York’s upper class. The acting and mise-en-scène are exquisite.

Jane Eyre (2011)— This passionate, chilling and charmingly British film is based on Charlotte Brontë’s autobiographical tale of woe. The film explores every emotion to the depth by spinning the story line on a wheel of anticipation.

The Princess of Montpensier (2010)— This film is based on a French short story published by Madame de La Fayette, who takes us into the world of the sixteenth-century French court and high aristocracy. A little bit of love, a little bit of war, and a lot of philosophical musings.

Anonimo Veneziano (1970)— [ITALIAN] Beautiful and cinematic. I watch it for Venice and for the best soundtrack of all time which weaves Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, in-and-out of every scene. I certainly do not watch it for the dialogue because it is in Italian and the only word I understand is— ciao.

They Make Life an Art: The Grigorovich Ballet

Alena Trofimcheva

 Photo: Alena Trofimycheva | Спасибо!

I had an opportunity to go on tour with the Grigorovich Ballet dance troupe from Krasnodar, Russia. In spending two months, day in and day out, I made some good friends and learned some valuable lessons. 

They work hard by day— play hard by night.  That is how these dancers make their life an art.

I thought something different while sitting in the audience watching the bird-like creatures float on and off stage, telling stories and unveiling legends with their bodies.

Then I had a lucky chance to go on tour with the Grigorovich Ballet to spend a couple of months traveling with the dancers.  I saw them day in and day out as they practiced, partied, ate, practiced, performed, partied and practiced some more.

They look so delicate on stage, but they are made of steel.  Their bodies are completely solid, not at all as fragile as they appear when thrown feather-like by their partners. Their grace and ease make the dance seem natural, but it is nothing of the sort.  Every move is the result of discipline, tenacity and endless practice.

Their chiseled bodies appear as if they are restricted to a diet of lean protein and vegetables, but I watched them eat their way through burgers, pizza and many plates of everything that this country has to offer only to burn it all, in half of a rehearsal.

They were genuine, friendly and took me into their troupe as if I was part of the family.  They really walked out the lives of true artists, lives that were entirely devoted to their art.

The troupe is part of The Grigorovich Ballet Company.  The company was founded in Krasnodar, Russia by Yuri Nikolayevich Grigorovich, chief of the Russian ballet scene for thirty years and recognized by many as the father of the Nutcracker.

At home, their routine starts early in the morning.  They arrive at the studio and practice— ten-hour rehearsals are the norm, some weeks end with performances on weekends, some months are spent touring.  For them, it is not a hobby, but a lifestyle.  They live the life of dance and that is what makes each of them a dancer.

This is the trick to turning a hobby into an art and turning a dilettante into an artist.  It takes uncompromising devotion to perfecting the art till it so fully defines the artist, that in turn— the artist defines it.

Behind the scenes from the 2012 U.S. Grigorovich Ballet Tour:


Give Opera a Shot: La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini

Lillian Gish in La Bohème, 1926

Based on my observations of the St. Pete Opera House, in about twenty years or so there will be no patrons left to patronize this art. There was barely a person below the age of 60 in the audience, but I think something like La Bohème could make it in the top of your charts if you give it a chance. Just prepare yourself.

By preparing yourself, I mean, read the opera story before you head out. People typically get bored because they don’t know what’s going on since most Opera gets sung in Italian, German, French, or Russian. Sometimes subtitles get projected on the wall, but then you’re missing the show. Just get familiar with the characters and the plot and the translation won’t be necessary, you will understand everything by following the emotions projected by the artists.

The Story of La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini

La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini is a witty and tragic Italian opera taking place on Christmas Eve around 1830, in the Latin Quarter of Paris.


Rudolpho, a poet, is looking out the window of a Parisian attic studio, while his painter friend, Marcello is working on his masterpiece, The Passage through the Red Sea. Both are penniless, trying their best to stay warm in their drafty apartment, as their empty fireplace “has had no legitimate payment” for a long time.

Marcello stops painting to remark that the chilly waters of the Red Sea seem to be running down the back of his neck, just for that, he adds, “I will drown a Pharaoh.” He makes a few strokes with his brush and turns to Rudolpho. After a few witty comments and some philosophizing about love, the two realize that they are still freezing and starving. Suddenly, Marcello suggests feeding his Great Masterpiece to the furnace, but Rudolpho objects saying that it will stink up the place. Then Rudolpho grabs his bulky manuscript of the play he is writing and begins tearing pages for the furnace. The scene continues as their two friends, philosopher, Colline, and musician, Schaunard enter the studio.


The friends go out, and as to be expected from all things Italian, things start heating up. Mimi and Musetta come on the scene and with them a whole plethora of emotions. Tenderness, passion, jealousy and things get hotter and hotter to the death. Whose death? You will have to go find out for yourself.

Why You Should Give Opera Chance

I get it– Opera can’t compete with light shows and synthesizers. It’s a different animal requiring high-level talent and soul. It takes a real artist to fill a theater with their voice, and even when the words don’t make sense, or the style is not your top choice the experience is worth it. The emotional energy coming from an Opera stage will inspire, uplift, and take your emotions for a spin.

Carmen by Georges Bizet

Like all opera, Carmen by Georges Bizet is performed in foreign tounges and I had to unravel the story before seeing it on stage.

It helps to get the story before getting swept in the emotional power of big operatic voices and in this case the beauty of ballet dance during overtures.

The opera is based on a story by the French novelist Prosper Meimee, performed in French, set in Seville around 1820. The story goes like this:

Don Jose is a corporal who received a visit from the fair Micaela. She is his dear, modest childhood friend who came to bring tidings from his mother and most importantly: a kiss. His heart is struck and in an aside he declares his love for her and resolves to marry the gentle Micaela.

All is sweet and rosy until his quarters are stormed by a herd of cigarette-factory girls and the feistiest of the bunch sets her fiery eyes on him. At first Don Jose seems unaffected but “L’amour est un oiseau rabelle” she throws a flower at him and leaves him (and every other man) enchanted by her charms. Don Jose quickly forgets his fair Micaela and is entirely intoxicated by the aroma of Carmen’s flower.

Passionate love duets resonate: she’s in love with him, he’s in love with her… this goes on for about an act– then entrée un rival— Carmen falls in love yet again and the unlucky Don Jose is sent off to simmer in a puddle of jealousy.

The fourth and final act opens with a great festive scene in the streets of Seville as Carmen declares her undying love for Escamillo. Meanwhile, Don Jose is looming in the crowds and although Carmen is warned of the impending danger, she displays her courage and goes out to meet her jealous lover. He embarks in an arduous struggle to win back her love, but to no avail. She will not have him, he will not let himself “not be had” and dum-da-duh– overtaken with passion he seizes Carmen and thrusts his dagger into her heart.

The crowd gasps. The curtain falls.