It’s been just over a month since I have returned from my visit to Budapest. However, I could not allow such a magnificent experience and such a beautiful destination to pass without a devoted blog post – so here it is!
I took my fiancé to Budapest, Hungary as a surprise for his 40th birthday. Admittedly, I knew very little about the destination before I booked our trip and had absolutely no idea what kind of city break we might actually experience. Most city break destinations don’t need much more than a good cityscape and some pretty bridges to justify itself as a city break destination. However, as it was a surprise for my fiance’s birthday I really needed Budapest to be extra special.
In all honesty, Budapest was not a destination I had romanticised over, like Paris, which possibly would always be my first choice for a European city break. Nevertheless, my fiance is not a big fan of Paris, we’d visited Milan, Barcelona and Berlin together in the recent years, so I needed a destination that was in Europe, that was not Amsterdam, that neither of us had ever been to and that would wow him. Budapest completely blew us both away. And maybe, just maybe, blew Paris out of the water too!
The features that lured me to the destination was the architecture, that I had been told was spectacular. The views of the river Danube, which I read were breathtaking and the Chain Bridge, thatlights up the night with stunning lights. However, what intrigued me more so than anything was that the River Danube literally and physically splits Budapest in two, creating Buda and Pest.
Indeed, Budapest is a striking city, arguably as pretty as Paris in its femininity, less modern than London, but more masculine and grandiose. Nevertheless, despite the beauty and the distinctive uniqueness of Budapest, we never picked up on an ounce of pretentiousness or even arrogance, one might expect from those that inhabit such a breathtaking city and this made exploring such a striking city just as pleasurable as its appearance.
Admittedly it rained our entire trip and was significantly cold, but this gave me the opportunity to wrap up and layer my winter armour. I packed my biggest oversized knits, my recently purchased black watch check cape with giant fur hood a la Dolce and Gabnana from Zara. I walked the streets of Budapest in my longest boots and complimented my ensembles with one of my many fur accessories, be it a fur snood, a fur collar or fur scarf – a winter styling technique I have adopted from Olivia Palermo.
It turns out that pretty much everyone in Budapest was dressed this way. However, the fur, worn in abundance, was everywhere and of course, it was real. Exploring the Christmas Markets, which were naturally freezing, involved lots of standing still outdoors, whilst we ate ghoulish soup or paprika sausages, so it made complete sense why these Hungarian women walked the markets in fur coats with hemlines just around their ankles. I am not sure whether all the luscious fur on display was worn worn out of glamour, frivolity or a display of wealth, because they were indeed completely functional, but they looked divine!
We stayed in Pest, the livelier side of the country, strolling through the Christmas markets drinking mulled wine, hanging out in the Jewish Quarter and drinking in the ruin bars. The impressive Parliament building, the third largest in the world,the extraordinary art-nouveaux Gresham Palace, which makes home to the Four Seasons Hotel and the Roman Catholic church, St. Stephen’s Basilica made for an awe-inspiring backdrop to our stay. However, it wasn’t till we hopped on board the local tram across the Danube River to Buda, that we could truly appreciate the Budapest cityscape in all its glory.
Buda sits on the right hand side of the vast Danube River and is connected to Pest with nine bridges. It’s mountainous and hilly land means it is able to offer views of both Buda and Pest which are unimaginable. Once the tram had dropped us in Buda, we walked a steep and rolling San Francisco-eque hill with an idyllic and quaint little town atop of it. Although, completely overwhelmed by how picturesque this town was, it was what was at the heart of this town that truly overwhelmed me – St Matthias Church,
In the pouring rain we spent hours in awe of the looming gothic church, with it’s colourful mosaic surfaces and just when we thought Budapest had reached it’s stunning quota, we walked behind the church, to find Fisherman’s Bastion. Located at the edge of the hill, Fisherman’s Bastion offers the best views of Budapest. The panoramic view, elevated from a top the hill allowed us to take in sights of the parliament building on the Pest side of the river, lit up in all it’s glory. We could see the chain bridge twinkling with white lights and it’s glittering reflection on the Danube river. With all the castles and palaces, churches and bridges, Budapest is indeed a sight for sore eyes. The vistas were something unimaginable and despite the pouring rain, we indulged in the vistas of Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion for hours.
Take a look at the photos of the views, the food, the markets and the bars we visited during our time in Budapest.
I recently travelled to Milan to visit my fiance, who was sent to the famous Corso Venezia number 15 Dolce and Gabbana Milan store to work on the launch of the first ever Dolce and Gabbana atelier in the world for bespoke menswear garments only. The Dolce and Gabbana atelier, titled Sartoria, expands even further upon the luxury fashion and lifestyle experience the palazzo already offers to its shoppers and guests.
If you have visited the Dolce and Gabbana palace before, you will know that I am by no means exaggerating when I call its quarters a ‘palace’ and a visit to the palace an ‘experience’ – as a visit to any palace would be. Keep reading to find out more about my Dolce and Gabbana and Milan fashion pilgrimage….
Although I have been travelling back and forth to Italy for nine years now, I was still yet to make it to what my fiance calls ‘the ultimate fashion capital’. ‘Arguably, maybe Paris might be the home of womenswear fashion, but, hands down, the menswear capital is Milan.’ He told me, with his proud Sicilian-ness.
I dare not call him biased.
Milan – The Fashion Capital I Wanted to Love Me Back
Milan was indeed the last fashion capital on my list to be crossed off. Regular Charms of a Dandizette readers will know that I have a special affection for Italy, because of my fiance and my close ties with the country , my love of its culture, its food, its language and its traditions . It’s become part of the world that I have grown familiar with and have started to look upon it as my home away from home.
However, while I was excited to finally travel to a more northern region of Italy and naturally, excited to see this fashion capital, anticipating my travel to Milan evoked a sense of nervousness in me. I had it on a pedestal and I really wanted to fall in love with it.
I had fallen in love with Parisienne Chic fashion and the romance of the culture in Paris. I was ignited by the energy, the lifestyle and the spectacularly designed stores belonging to the major fashion houses on the iconic 5th Avenue and of course, I already live in London – one of the braver and more pioneering fashion capitals (in my books). But this was the Italian fashion capital. I wanted to fall in love with it and, I would be lying if I didn’t say, I also wanted Milan to fall in love with me too. I wanted to fit in, to feel at home and make a good impression on this great fashion capital. And as any fashion lover will know, first impressions start with clothes.
I landed in Milan, wearing a a khaki, leather piping zip up jumpsuit from Zara. On my feet a pair of silver Terry De Havilland wedges, in my hand my Alexander Wang black Rocco bag and on my face my Anouk Tom Ford sunglasses. A jumpsuit seems to do wonders for my figure, although I am already of a good height, the jumpsuit slims and elongates and they are perfect for flying. My shoes, bag and sunglasses added that high fashion edge to the ensemble, which I felt was completely necessary for my fashion pilgrimage in Milan – a metallic Terry De Havilland wedge can do wonders for any ensemble. I jumped in a taxi, giddy with fashion excitement, and headed straight for the number 15 Corso Venezia store, with no idea what to expect from the new store, the Milanese fashion or the people.
Dolce and Gabbana Corso Venezia- A Palace Fit for a King
Corso Venezia is Milan’s elite shopping district – think Bond Street or Sloane Street – lined with the stores of world famous fashion houses, Prada, Gucci and, of course, Dolce and Gabbana, having a presence in a very big way. When my taxi pulled up outside 15 Corso Venezia I could barely believe what I was seeing – this was no ordinary store. I stepped out of the car to meet my fiance, who walked me through a quaint and picturesque courtyard where petite yet curvy beautiful women, wearing dresses of the typical Dolce and Gabbana silhouette and lace court shoes, were serving drinks to patrons sitting in the courtyard. I continued walking further into the enclosed outdoor space to meet some of the Dolce and Gabanna employees – men, groomed to perfection, dark haired, sun kissed skin and perfectly manicured hands, wearing impeccably cut black suits.
Like I said, it was later understood that, indeed, the Dolce and Gabbana store on Corso Venezia was no ordinary store at all, in fact, it occupies a palace. An entire neoclassical palace of the 16th century, that once belonged to a wealthy Italian family. The palace makes home to a Dolce and Gabbana leather goods and accessories store complete with an in store shoe mender. The main store, which covers four floors, selling the most comprehensive selection of Dolce and Gabbana goods, including jewellery, casual wear, fashion suits, knitwear, classic and season goods and the most recently opened and more specialist space, Dolce and Gabbana Sartoria, for which my fiance went to assist with the opening.
Dolce and Gabbana Sartoria is dedicated solely to bespoke menswear. All garments are handcrafted and cut and finished by Dolce and Gabbana tailors. The Sartoria offers a a one to one fashion experience for men that want their garments made from cloth to finish entirely, designed for their tastes, cut as sharp as a razor and fit to perfection.
Can you smell the opulence and the ultimate luxury? There’s more still. In addition to leather goods, handmade garments and all things Dolce and Gabbana, men can also be coiffed by Dolce and Gabbana at the Dolce and Gabbana Barber shop. This barber shop makes the designer beard (in the literal sense of the word) completely achievable. In a time when men’s hair and facial hair is just as crucial a statement to be made as his shoes, his watch or his jacket, this is the perfect way to finish off any desired look and for those that can’t afford handcrafted garments designed by Dolce and Gabbana, the barber shop offers the chance to experience the luxury of the fashion house in an alternative, but just as fashionable way.
The Fashion, the Approach, La Dolce Vita
So, that covers the garments and the grooming. There I am, sat inside the palace walls, in the courtyard of the famous Dolce and Gabbana Bar Martini, ambient house music filtering through the speakers. I am presented with an endless list of delicious cocktails, each coming in their appropriately shaped Martini glass. In addition to Bar Martini, across the courtyard of the palace is Dolce and Gabbana Bistrot Martini, a fine dining restaurant serving Italian cuisine with a chic and modern influence, again with it’s own al fresco dining area in another courtyard. Alone, waiting for my fiance to finish his work, I was feeling extremely excited to have a reason to be here and proud of my very small association with this groundbreaking and unbelievably glamorous fashion house.
Bar Martini slowly began to fill with patrons that had clearly been shopping and working in this fabulous Milan shopping district, giving me the opportunity to get a feel for the fashion and style in the city. Unlike Sicily, where women dress in slightly more typical Italian fashions and I often feel I need to tone down my dress to avoid being overdressed, in Milan it’s just fashion. It’s the street style fashion you see on street style fashion blogs, it’s the glamour you see in Italian Vogue, it’s the way of dress you see on Giovanna Battaglia. It’s fashion for fashion sake. The fashion isn’t alternative, you can’t be too cool for it, it isn’t considered shallow or irrelevant and there’s nothing wrong with loving it, embracing it and aspiring to it.
For the first time ever in Italy, I had no concern of being overdressed at all. Everybody was dressed, adorned with pride, expensively clad, stylishly and tastefully. I definitely noticed more glamour and opulence than what you might see in Paris, but what you might expect to see in elite locations in London. Italian Vogue is certainly reflective of the Milanese fashion spirit and its style. Women and men alike had taken the time to present their best self and of course, if you’re enjoying an aperitivo in the bar of one of Italy’s most notoriously luxurious fashion houses, then of course, you must dress the part and both sexes did.
It was this, the approach to fashion as opposed to the fashion itself, that made me fall head over heels for Milan, that reaffirmed my adoration for Dolce and Gabbana and gave me a sense of pride for my dedication and love for fashion. Milan is unashamedly glamorous, it’s unapologetically fashionable and the life here for a fashion lover can’t help be anything but La Dolce Vita – with endless places and opportunity to dress, to see and be seen and most importantly, for your efforts to be appreciated.
The Italian duo are known for doing nothing by halves and this spectacular palace, complete with gardens and courtyards, was not just here to satisfy the rich and famous’ desire to shop. This was a Dolce and Gabbana brand experience, a lifestyle experience and Dolce and Gabbana were providing the clothes and showing you the lifestyle in which their clothes belong to.
After drinking two…. or maybe three of the Sartoria Spritz cocktails, created and named after the new atelier, my fiance joined me and we enjoyed an apperitivo of oysters, smoke salmon and a cold and spicy lobster bisque. It’s pretty fair to say, it was possibly one of the most decadent appertivo I have ever had in Italy. Through fear of eating too much before our dinner, we left the Dolce and Gabbana palace to continue to buzz without us.
‘Tomorrow,’ my fiance said, ‘I will take you to the Duomo di Milano. Then for drinks at Maio at La Rinascente and then to the Dolce and Gabbana Gold restaurant for lunch.’! Indeed this Milan/ Dolce and Gabbana lifestyle was one I could most certainly get used to living.
(Sorry people – this is a rough and first draft entry. I am working on the Sicilian’s sister’s computer and have limited time on here. It will be edited when i am back home, just wanted to get this online in the moment – enjoy!!)
I have officially arrived in what i like to think of my home away from home, except here seems far more exciting and far more richer and warmer in all the elements of life that i love that little bit more than in London. On my arrival i was greeted by the Sicilian’s in laws, waiting with beaming faces and skin as dark as a golden desert. They wave to us through the glass windows while we await our baggage and once we meet them on the other side of the doors rapturous gestures, big hugs and kisses are exchanged. They show their affections to their son, the Sicilian. His mum looks at him with pride and happiness to have her son back home. Then they turn to me and bombard me with hugs, kisses and the italian language, which my mind is working over time to understand. The Sicilian’s father, a huge Sicilian masculine character in side a four foot something tiny body tells me my italian is improvng, “Now, let’s work on your Sicilian!” he jokes. He can only be joking.We step outside of the airport and are greeted with a still, intense humid heat, it’s nine o clock at night and the temperature is twenty nine degrees centigrade – the Sicilian’s father looks at me with all my London armour as though i am a crazy person, my new leopard print oversize scarf that i bought earlier this morning from Primark and my black blazer is most certainly NOT NEEDED HERE. As we walk to the car the in laws hustle me out of my excessive attire, leaving me with a vest, jeans and pumps on – it’s still ridiculously hot, there’s no breeze, the leaves on the trees stand as still as stone and the heat leaves sweat beads on the Sicilian’s face.In the car we have the inevitable important conversation and i am so glad that this conversation has come so soon, ‘Cosa mangiamao? – WHERE SHALL WE EAT?’ The options are Carne di Cavallo (Horse Meat) at Achilles, a trattoria specialising in horse meat which the Sicilian and i frequent with his family every Sunday for lunch or Pizza in the mountains – the Pizzeria is located on the drive towards Etna, the Sicilian tells me that during the summer the Catanese (people of Catania) and general city folk head to the mountains where it’s cooler to do their essentials for the day – which is of course eating dinner and eating ice cream.
So – eventually we decide to head to Achilles; Achilles is located in what you could call the ghetto, although amazingly picturesque with beautiful rustic terraced houses and a back drop of castles and cathederals, it is the urban part of Catania. People here are on the grind and doing what they can to make a living, most of which are making their living from food – so you can imagine how good the food is here. As we make our way up to Achille i am surprised at how many people there are simply hanging out, on every street corner there are people, Sicilian people from the age of two right through to eight years old – i am yet to see one foreigner or holiday maker. Every bar or restaurant or Carrozzoni (a food place in the style of a mini hut or mini van usually selling pannini’s and beers) has a gathering of people surrounding it. Achilles’s is set on a narrow main road, along this strip there are probably another twenty trattorias just like Achille. They have huge grills outside where they grill the horse meat, creating fumes and a smell of cooking meat in the hot air, due to the heat the trattorias have had to extend their outside space to accomodate their loyal customers, who want to site outside. So all the trattoria’s have placed their grills on the edges of the road, some have even placed some tables and chairs in the road just so they can get as many people outside. Cars and bikes struggle to pass down the now narrowed main road and of course abusive rhetoric is exchanged even more frequently from the drivers than usual. It is not long after our arrival in Achilles that the Polizia arrive and initiate some havok, telling all restauranteurs to set back their tables and chairs and get their grills out of the road. ‘You would have these tables bang in the middle of the road if you could,’ the police man continues, he cusses like a Jamaican -the Sicilian is known for their oral expressive nature. They are quick, witty and sharp tongued and they never miss a beat.Once we have finished watching the Polizia raid the trattoria’s we eat – for starter’s we head up to the buffet where me and the Sicilian load our plates with Parmagiana (an aubergine cake, layered with egg, parma ham and sometimes cheese), a spinach and cheese cake, red peppers with bread crumbs, Finochio (Fennel) and Crochette di patate. We order half a bottle of the local red wine, which is served in a jug cold, when Salvo (the waiter) brings our wine without any glasses the Sicilian’s mother yells, ‘Salvo!’ Here there are no airs or graces, if you want something just ask and if you can’t be heard, talk louder and if you can’t be seen then shout! So at Achilles this is how you dine and my meal is punctuated with the yells amongst the wiaters and customers calling out at each other, ‘Vanessa! Agata! Salvo!’ When you are a foreigner here it is so easy to take delight in the colorfulness of this culture and the Sicilian people and i always catch myself taking a moment, studying and falling more and more in love with this island. My thoughts are interrupted by my Polpetti di Cavallo (horse meatballs) which are placed in front of me, the rest of the table have a mixture of horse meat, which is cooked like a steak only cut thinly and Salsiccia condida (seasoned sausage), in the centre of the table a tomato, garlic, onion and cheese salad to accompany the meat. I tuck into my food, how i have missed these meatballs – ‘Ho!’ The Sicilian father says, (Ho is the equivalent to Oi), ‘Do you come here to see us or eat our food?’ He jokes. They joke about me arriving looking too skinny and tell me that they will take even more pride in fattening me up. Grazie!So after finishing at Achille only naturally we head to Quaranta, a gelateria (ice cream bar, it is completely packed – inside people push their way to the ice cream counter which features Mars, Forrero Roche, Kit Kat and Nutella flavoured ice cream as well as many many more. Outside there are wicker chairs and tables where we sit and enjoy our ice cream as we would enjoy a glass of wine in a bar in London…