I’ve Fallen Under The Spell Of Capodistria

“Where is Capodistria?” you are probably asking yourselves. I myself had only heard about the town in passing and almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to place it on a map. But as the boy, the dog and I drove back to Italy from Croatia, we spent the morning tracking along the Istrian coast.

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I use the name Capodistria, but it would – strictly speaking – be more correct to use its Slovenian name, Koper. Koper is the 5th largest city in Slovenia and its only commercial port.

I prefer the Italian name because of the reference to the town’s historical importance when it was once the “Capo d’Istria” meaning head of Istria. Koper, on the other hand, is derived from the Ancient Greek and then Latin name for “goat town.” Decidedly less romantic!

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In the 14th and 15th century, the town of Capodistria was the prosperous capital of Venetian Istria, at a time when the Venetian Republic was one of the more powerful in the world. Successive bouts of plague weakened the importance of this city and it subsequently lost out to neighbouring Trieste in terms of commercial importance.

Just one last piece of geography: Istria is the long, narrow stretch of rocky coastline that runs from Trieste in Italy through Slovenia and down deep into Croatia. The Ancient Greeks referred to the inhabitants of this area as the Histrian tribes. Istria became part of Yugoslavia after the Second World War. Slovenia, a country which was only granted independence after the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, is almost entirely landlocked, with just 1% of the country’s total being the 29 miles of Istrian coastline.

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So, why did I fall under its spell? Because I wasn’t expecting anything like the architectural beauty and the accessible but historical small-town vibe that I experienced.

Pula/Pola in Croatia felt like an extended and even more torturous version of rue Steinkerque, the road that leads from Anvers métro station to the foot of the Sacré Coeur in Paris. Shops that, for as far as the eye can see, are selling over-priced magnets, postcards, t-shirts, and tourist souvenirs that you’ll get home and think, ‘why did I buy this crap?’

Capodistria, on the other hand, felt genuine and personable. Being only 3 miles south of the Italian border and blessed with a Mediterranean climate, it has a fantastic relaxed café culture. You can sit by the port and order a cappuccino and brioche while watching kids play in the water or the boats moor up in the harbour.

Head just a hundred metres inland and you’ll discover the stunning mediaeval old town. It’s all pedestrianised so you can stroll around at ease. If you’ve been to Venice, it won’t take you long to spot all the Venetian influences on the buildings and in its architecture. There’s a constant supply of St Mark’s lions, of plaques in remembrance of Venetian dignitaries and the like.

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Capodistria is not particularly easy to get to. It’d be worth flying into Trieste or Venice and then spending a couple of days here for a lazy city-break. You won’t be overwhelmed with things to do but you will find ways to fill the days – exploring the narrow streets and climbing the City Tower – and you’ll leave recharged and relaxed.

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There’s not a lot of information available online but the I Feel Slovenia official website is a good resource: https://www.slovenia.info/en/places-to-go/cities/koper

If you want to prolong your stay in Slovenia – or you’ve arrived in Capodistria on a day when a cruise ship has just docked – try the town of Piran – which is smaller, similar but even more perfectly preserved.

Sexual Harassment – it doesn’t have to be this way…

I want to take a second from my usual food-related ramblings to talk about something more serious: harassment on the streets of Paris.

The wave of women posting #MeToo statuses has meant that journalists are getting the green light to publish articles which state the bleeding obvious.

The Local, for example, recently published a piece detailing the experiences of women in Paris. It’s a sad state of affairs that the only woman they could find who hadn’t experienced any kind of harassment was a 19 year old student who only moved to Paris “a few weeks ago.”

My experience is much the same. On a daily basis, I was made to feel uncomfortable, being subjected to looks, calls, whistles… all of which were supposed to be taken as compliments.

I tried to change my habits. I would wear jeans rather than a skirt. That didn’t stop the harassment.

I chose to Vélib rather than take the métro. That didn’t always work because on several occasions, a car would follow/keep pace with my bike just to check out my ass or proposition me. On another occasion, the man also took a Vélib bike himself and chased me down the street to my house.

I took a taxi a short distance to go home late at night… and that got me nothing but a black eye when the driver assaulted me.

I got cat-called and mocked by the vigileat Monoprix. They are supposed to be the ones who help and keep you safe and yet they failed desperately. Their head office subsequently received a strongly-worded letter.


Women should not be told: “you live in a big city, you should expect this.” 

Let’s hope that the next generation of boys will grow up knowing that this behaviour is unacceptable and the next generation of girls will no longer be afraid of speaking out.

In the meantime, we’re in this transitional period in which we know it’s wrong, we’ve had enough but we need to speak up and take back control of our streets.

That’s the key word: control. What’s most hurtful and traumatic in these harassment situations is your sudden lack of control. That someone else has the upper hand, that you are being objectified.

False. False. False! Legally, you CANNOT do this.

Number 1: please, take a self-defense class. I cannot recommend highly enough Ladies System Defense in Paris but there must be others too.

If you are physically attacked – like the British woman in the supermarket in the Local article – kick the fucking man in the balls. Men have never been particularly good at listening… but they do remember acute pain. Put your two hands on his left shoulder and drive your right knee up where it hurts. (The same movement can also be used on women too… if need be.) Incidentally, this technique worked wonderfully on that aforementioned taxi driver (read my piece on Medium below.)

That said, if the initial attack is verbal, you must remain verbal. If the attack is physical, you can get physical as long as your reaction is APPROPRIATE, TIMELY and ALLOWS YOU TO GET AWAY.

If you slap someone for having said something, according to French law, you are in the wrong. Please, please read this (written by the same French police officers who take time off work to teach self-defence) to know your rights.

View story at Medium.com


Number 2: Speak out or step in when you see it happening to another person. Always consider your personal safety but if you can intervene or take a photo – or better still, a video – it may well become the most valuable piece of evidence to take to the police and result in a conviction.

The points at the end of this Guardian article are worth remembering.


Number 3: If you have evidence, or you’re worried for your safety, go to the police station. I will most likely write something about the inner workings of the French justice system, of the differences between a main courante and a plainte but that’s for later.

View story at Medium.com


Finally, I want to end on a positive note.

I moved to Italy – a country with a reputation for dark-haired Lotharios calling out ciao bellissimaaaa – but I’ve been here for over a year now and I have had just two such experiences:

I’m sitting outside a café, writing the address on an envelope that I’m about to send. Suddenly, breaking my concentration, a car pulls up, with the window down and the man calls out: “hey girl, come stai?” … I give him a filthy look… He continues “how’s Alessandro?” Oh shit, I realise: this is Alessandro’s cousin, a guy I’d met once before and he’s just being friendly.

Secondly, walking along the pavement with my dog… and a guy on a bike cycles past and calls out, “ciao bello” to which I realise (because he’s used the masculine) that he is actually addressing my dog!! Yes, my dog got cat-called! He gives me a courteous nod and says “buona giornata / have a good day” before cycling on.

Ok, I’m in a small town in the north of Italy where people generally mind their own business. But street harassment does not have to be part of your daily life and nor should you accept it as such.

Spotlight On: Chausson au Speculoos

IMG_20160226_084304248The croissant is so passé. My social media feeds this week (I’m looking at you in particular, Facebook) have been clogged with supposedly scandalous chatter of straight vs curved croissants. It’s pure semantics. Anyone who knows their butter from their margarine knows that the croissant was not created equal. So while we wait for the online world to straighten out their knickers, let’s put the spotlight on some of the more unusual pastries that you can find in a Parisian boulangerie.

This morning, I tested a chausson au speculoos. It caught my eye because it’s not something you find very often. A chausson aux pommes, yes. Literally in French, it means a “slipper of apples” but more commonly, we’d say an apple turnover.

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The twist here is the addition of speculoos. If you’re not familiar with the word “speculoos” – first of all, why not?! – you may know the taste from those little brown sugar biscuits that tend to accompany your coffee.

Speculoos, also occasionally spelt “speculaas“, is Belgian speciality. It combines sugar and butter with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. In short, pure deliciousness in the form of a paste or a shortcrust biscuit.

-> Yes, you can find a spreadable Speculoos paste to apply liberally to your morning toast! 

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Anyway, back to the chausson. It’s a really good pairing. Whilst not over-powering the apples, the addition of speculoos provides a substantial kick of cinnamon. It’s like taking the classic American apple and cinnamon pie filling, putting it in a French butter casing and giving it a Belgian accent.

Using crumbled biscuits as a topping is an interesting addition. It gives a satisfying crunch to the pastry which contrasts nicely with the smoothness of the apples. Definitely recommended!

So where can you find this chausson au speculoos, you ask?

At La Badine de Martine on rue Crozatier in the 12th. (n.b. closed Thursdays.)

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