Rebellious and Fashionable Iranian ladies

Dear Reader,

time to break the backward image most people get from just hearing the name “Iran”.
There are many things to say on this regard but this time I will start with a small preview on women fashion…

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Too modern and too conservative at the same time. Fashion in Iran is more than The Rich Kids of Tehran and highly linked to a strong feeling of rebellion. Stay tuned for my story.



How to take Photos with your Mobile

Dear Reader,

It’s time to learn something new today 🙂
Experience teaches us a lot, especially when we’re on the road. Nothing makes a story more beautiful and interesting than colourful eye-catching photos taken on the go.
Most of us travellers rely on good cameras with settings. However, as we travel and share instant snaps on our blog or social media, we often recur to smartphones. You need to be able to use your smartphone well, especially if you go to places where cameras are either not welcome or you don’t have time to set up your regular camera. Smartphones are more conspicuous and with technology that allow us to do wonderful things.

So here are few tips I learnt myself 🙂

Think Mobile

Before using a picture, look at it on your smartphone and ensure your main subject is clear and any writing, such as a sign, is legible. Keep in mind that most people will check your photos and articles from their phones so make your shots mobile friendly and neat.

If you’re able to read the 007 commemorative sign then it’s a successful mobile-friendly photo

Keep it Simple

I learnt that my most popular photos are the simplest ones. They don’t have many people in them, multiple props, and complicated staging. The most effective images so far have been those with simple subjects, such as a close-up of a situation, object, person or even buildings.

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Play with Light and Shadow

Both Samsung (S7 series) and iPhones allow you to adjust the lighting by simply tapping on the screen so pay attention to your scene’s lighting. Bright light and deep shadows create a stark contrast that can make your photo more interesting and dramatic.

Natural light inside the peacock dome
Masjed_e_Jāmé_ Esfahan_Iran_stanito
The Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan was a tad darker than the peacock dome mosque so here all I did was slightly augmenting the contrast level.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough not to need any of these 🙂 just because the light is so naturally beautiful and unique (Iran has plenty of these places where light is so mystical you can play with it for hours). So before you start thinking about tapping on the screen of your phone, analyse your surrounding and catch the elements already at your disposal.

Follow the Rule of Thirds

If your subject is a person or more people, have them closer to either side, or along the top or bottom, rather than in the center. This is the rule of thirds, where you basically break an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts.

The Rule of Thirds

Studies have shown that if you place the subject along the intersection lines rather than the center of the frame – the photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

If you divide this photo in 9 squares, my face comes right up to the lower right intersection.

An exception: Faces. Faces can be anywhere in the frame.

Subject / Try different Perspectives

Mix big and small things and create an interesting contrast with different perspectives. For example, put a subject close to the camera and others in the background to create a more spaced composition.

The Salisbury Cathedral from a dark side.

You can either take a typical frontal photo of the Jame Mosque like this one…


Or you can be creative by simply changing angle like my friend Marina did with this photo of me under the crystal-turquoise arch and make it sensational.


Don’t Zoom and Don’t Flash

I learnt using my own flash is a terrible idea, just as bad as zooming.
If you really must use artificial light because you’re either in a dark setting or because you want to give your photo a magazine look, get help from a friend. Ask your friend to point their smartphone flashlight (or a proper flashlight, if available) at the subject from a different angle of yours.

This photo was an experiment using my friend who was sitting next to me and her iPhone flashlight. The room was already very well lit but her flash allowed me to highlight the food in more detail.

Don’t photograph directly with Instagram

Instagram comes with a preset square mode that will not allow you to crop or give your subject proper focus. It is better that you take your photo with your regular camera vertically (regular full-sized portrait mode). This way you will be able to visualise more and not be limited to format constrictions. You can always edit the photo later, just get the first one properly sized.

Use interesting elements

Be creative and use the elements around you to make a photo interesting. Most of the time it will spontaneous but consider spending some time analysing the surrounding to create an appealing photograph in such way that it almost tells a story on its own.

My subject was the balcony_restaurant San Fernando, however, what makes this photo attractive are the live musician dedicating their tunes to the restaurant’s clientele.


Add a focal point and varied textures

When setting up your photo, ensure you have a subject in the foreground that provides a focal point. Use varied textures that create an interesting contrast.

A flower I found on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Notice the blurred background.

Blend in and Ask for Permission

Before snapping a photo of a local merchant or nomads, always ask. No need to invasively snap a quick shot and run (you probably wouldn’t like it done to you either). If you ask you’d be surprised at how receptive people are to smiling 🙂

Nomads of Iran. It is a distinct luck to actually find and interact with them




And last but not least…

Say NO to selfie sticks!

The idea of a selfie is having an impromptu photo of yourself with a background that you like. And as such, it should look like a rustic spontaneous shot. A stick defies this logic because it forces a selfie to look like anything BUT a natural moment.

Not only selfie sticks are very annoying (blocking views, turning a memory trip to a self-aware photo trip) and have a lot of tourist destinations now banned them, but also the angle that the stick creates is unoriginal and fake given the effort of hiding who’s taking the photo.


Take normal selfies. Be natural.



Sinking Buildings: a curse or consequence?

Dear Reader,

Mexico City could have an entire collection of strange facts and curiosities. Here is one. Sinking buildings are a curious phenomenon occurring in Mexico City affecting mainly Hispanic churches.

The Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum is inclined over its right side

The ground is slowly giving up as most of these buildings were erected on an already built up Aztec city.
The Aztec’s legacy people of today dare to suggest the phenomenon to be a silent vengeful curse…

The leaning Metropolitan Cathedral on the right side.

The city is sinking on a daily basis, so far it has gone down of about 10 metres in the last few decades.

One theory explains that underneath the city is located the aqueduct which sustains the thirst of over 9 million people. As millions of people drink its water, it slowly becomes less sustaintable and more prone to degradation and debilitation of the structure.
Another explanation dates back from the Aztecs and the Spanish arrival: during the Aztec period when the city was known as Tenochtitlan, the town was initially built on a Lake Texcoco by creating islands using dumped soil right into the lagoon. When the Spanish arrived they erected a second city on top of the Aztec ruins after been demolished. A city atop of another, basically.

Templo Mayor Ruins (Main Temple), or the remains of it.

The base, however, was a lake. Drained and all, but still a lake.

This has caused buildings to lean and sink into the ground at a rate of up to one foot a year in the most extreme places.

This is the pendulum hanging inside the Matropolitan Cathedral right on main aisle. If you look carefully, the pendulum shows you how the foundations of the cathedral have been shifting since it’s conception.

And last, a balcony that has suffered from unevenness of the ground and shows a wavy effect as a result of the ground’s debilitation.



The Witchy Sonora Market

Dear Reader,

Are you superstitious? Do you think you are followed by bad luck? Do you suspect your neighbour is trying to poison you? Harbouring revenge over your cheating wife or husband?
Then this is the right place for you then: travel with me to one of the creepiest sides of Mexico.

Remember how I went on about Sicilian superstitions? This time it is not that amusing but rather a more serious deal. Just walk with me as I take you to the colourful and creepy Mercado de Sonora.


It was about 3 pm in Mexico City, just after lunch. The travel team had already covered the must-see places and things in this gigantic metropolis so I was very keen on looking for the kind of things I like: the strange things. I was told about the obscure Mercado de Sonora, filled with occult things and cures for anything that ails you…

Local 313 is known as Santa (saint), dedicated to spiritual cleansing, love binding, banishments and tarot reading.

It look like a very big market place focused on esoteric items, the ideal place for those interested in mysticism, occultism and hidden wisdom (a term cherished by many).

It was creepy, for sure, but also very interesting and certainly a nice detour from the regular city attractions.

Vendors were friendly and invited us in easily, though they preferred to remain hidden in front of my camera. See photo below.

Store specialised in spiritual cleansing.


As we walked by the aisles, vendors asked us questions and offered us all kinds of solutions to our daily life’s troubles. Things like herbs, claws of garlic, water and essences spray, soaps, saints, skulls, ritual pamphlets, anything you can imagine, including the illegal trade of animals.

The Mercado Sonora is home to many religions other than Catholicism. Here I found a wide range of vernacular religions, sorcery practices and other bizarre faiths and convictions. Voodoo is no stranger here either, with all its incredible imagery and rituals.

It got more and more interesting as I walked through it. Aisled are stuffed with witchcraft items, potions, dolls and amulets.

Amulets of all kinds.

This creepy market offers a wide range of items that serve to fulfil any macabre wish people harbour. The rich variety of products and shamanistic items will feed your imagination. There are stands with skulls, skeleton representations and dubious containers among other items.

People who believe they are being cursed or ill-wished come to Mercado Sonora to have a spiritual cleansing known as limpia. It is a very common practice and not only in Mexico. It’s a process which normally involves the use of incense, singing prayers and herbal items, either ingested or brushed upon the affected person.


This is just one of the precious occult jewels of Mexico City. And there are more on my list to come soon 🙂


Photo of the Day: Stanito in Esfahan

Dear Reader,
One of the best benefits of traveling in company is that casually your travel buddies are excellent photographers. My friend Lichix took this photo of me in Esfahan while visiting the stunning Masjed-e Jameh Mosque, the biggest mosque in Iran and the pioneer of Islamic architecture.


With this post I’m opening a thread of How-To posts dedicated on how to take beautiful pictures in places where the camera is not very welcome. Stay tuned! 🙂

Did you know…

that Pijama is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
Discovering origins can really surprise us, just like when the Romans invented the bikini or else they took and made it famous (we Italians are known for taking existing inventions and improve them, like coffee, pizza and pasta, no argument on this 🙂 ). This is another new segment I dedicate to the Persian contribution to modern languages.

Pijama comes from the Persian pai jameh (پايجامه), which means ‘Leg Clothing’.

A muslim girl wearing a pijama. 1844. (c) Didactalia

Originally only used by men who did not wish to go to bed naked, usually composed by two pieces: a top part and a bottom part, looking very much like loose trousers. Higher ranking men also used a one-piece pai jameh.

It must have been very comfortable and chic. By the 18th century the use of pijamas was already widespread, making the ‘Persian loose pants’ a unique trade mark. It quickly displaced the old fashioned night-garment, a one-piece of heavy wool or velvet that stretched to the feet, prompting the use of linen instead.

Be a Local, not a Tourist

Dear Reader,

if you enjoy my adventures and follow my blog, it is probably because you and I share the same travel style. We don’t behave like common “tourists” but rather like “travellers” who walk a lot and enjoy a place like locals do. For this post I’m using the photos I took in Iran as it depicts what an off the beaten track destination is.

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Being a tourist is perfectly fine when you are a person who is more comfortable around other foreigners and want to document every sight and corners with your camera but, even then, with very little effort you can make of your journey something special if you pack accordingly and merely use your guidebook as a generic reference and no more. When you travel, curiosity will always be your best friend. Off the beaten tracks are always so much better than the regular trails because they’re cheaper, more interesting, and most likely you will not feel oppressed by sellers and beggars.

Stanito in Abyaneh, sleepy town in central Iran

Look around you. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are the more real the experience will be.

This is kashko badem-jan, the best eggplant dish I have ever had…

Start by finding locals who speak English and ask for advice on what untapped sights you should see.

Eat what locals eat. It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel like a local eat and drink like one. Ask around what are the local typical dishes, the ones that are low key and far from being posh. In case you can’t find anybody to ask, have a look around  markets and bazaars and look for those spots where you see locals lining up for food.

Walk on foot as much as you can and use local transportation to get to really know a town like locals do. This is how you find about the best places, personal experience speaking here 🙂

A lovely evening with Qashqa’i nomad friends near Chemarhahijn

Unless you go to sporty countries, conflicted places or nations that are hard to access, I suggest forget about bus or guided tours.

Try to immerse yourself in the local culture rather than standing out everywhere.

The nomad tent used for supper and entertaining the guests.

Explore the less-beaten areas and explore locations where tourism simply doesn’t drive the economy and people. You’ll interact with locals. This way your objective will turn into learning and experiencing new things, rather than to take a relaxing break from everyday life filled with selfies. A traveler may consider a trip a journey rather than a vacation.

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If you already consider yourself a traveler, it’s likely that you are already surrounding yourself with locals. And even then, you can still improve your trip 🙂 try getting more involved with them.

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Find a spot in town where locals seem to gather, like a town square or popular restaurant, and spend the day there. Strike up conversations with people of all ages. Ask questions about the local culture and talk about common interests; at the very least, you’ll leave with a broadened worldview. Don’t turn your nose up at tourists, and don’t avoid popular attractions simply because they’re packed with foreigners. This because ok, the Colosseo is constantly packed with tourists, but then, how can you go to Rome and not see this wonder?

Stanito in Esfahan, Iran, photo taken by Alicia Venegas.


 Do you want explore in depth what off the beaten track destinations really are? Check these other two amazing blogs: The Velvet Rocket and The Unusual Traveler.

Did you know…

Assassin is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
could you believe that so many words came from old Persian language?

This time I will enlighten you about the word Assassin.
Commonly mistaken as an Arabic word, Assassin as we know it comes from old Persian hashashin (حشاشین), originated in the Alamut region of Iran. It has nothing to do with modern ‘hashish’.
The Assassins were a much-feared fighting group in the late 11th century. But what was their origin? And what did their name mean?


An assassin was a ‘person who was energised to kill’ on the account of the king.

When a king or high hierarchy old man wished to kill someone, he would enlist a young man and promise him a return to Paradise if he entered his service and followed his instructions or even died in his service. The first man to ever do so was Hassan-i Sabbah, founder of Alamut. He trained men to become highly deathly weapons to use against his enemies. Some modern Muslims believed he would drug these young men in order to subject them, but let’s see what happened…


If you read Hassan-i’s accounts and the many tales of Marco Polo, you can easily understand that Hashash was not a substance used to drug people. Here is why:

The word hashashin was phonetically very close to the Muslim hash-ishiyun, which means “hashish-smokers”; some scholars thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin”, which later became a terrifying word in most European languages…

However, dear Reader, the truth is quite another. According to texts that have come down to us from Alamut, Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, which in Persian means ‘people who are faithful to the Asās’, meaning “foundation” of the faith.

This is the word that so often is misunderstood by many foreign travellers as its sound is so similar to “hashish”, the substance that many people enjoy consuming.

Stanito and the Guineafowl Puffer fish

Dear Reader,

There are experiences in life which are just wonderful and unique and expressing them with words is not enough 🙂

It all happened on a weekend…

We went diving in a secret location. We were told that the conditions were not ideal, meaning visibility was poor, but that we could still enjoy appreciate the smaller creatures of the oceans. It is true that when visibility is great you tend to focus on big creatures like manta rays, sharks, whales, and what not.

This time, however, surprises came in small size.

No sharks, no nothing big, but this guy was worth the entire experience.

Meet the friendliest guineafowl puffer fish

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Our dive buddy found him, he was slim, once in his hands he puffed up immediately

Gilles grabs him first before passing him onto me

And then he laid in my hands

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First time I hold one in my hands. He felt soft, slimy, spongy, until I let him go

Puffy fish swims away

No need for sharks or big buddies. This puffy little guy was worth the trip.