Liza Urla, Jewellery Blogger, Gemologue
Liza Urla, Jewellery Blogger, Gemologue
Liza Urla is the founder of GEMOLOGUE, one of the Top 5 Jewellery blogs in the UK. She is also a jewellery consultant and stylist. Liza is originally from Vladivostok, Russia.
Can you tell me about your first trip abroad?
I was born in Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. The Iron Curtain fell in 1991, and shortly afterwards my family went abroad for the first time. Our first trip was to Tenerife, Spain. That first trip outside of Russia was particularly memorable. I loved all the new, exciting things that I saw: beaches, dolphins, and beautiful parks…
My second trip was to Beijing, an experience drastically different to Tenerife. Since I was living in the Russian Far East, travelling to Europe was a long, tiresome affair: first a nine-hour flight to Moscow, then another three, four hours to another major European destination. On the other hand, Vladivostok is very close to China, Japan and Korea: less than three hours on a plane. Beijing terrified me as a child. It was a grey, cold and wet place; and it reminded me of the ex-communist Russia. Nowadays, in the aftermath of the 2008 Olympic Games, it is a totally new and vibrant city, a city full of art and an amazing place to live (I still prefer Shanghai though). I remember walking around, trying to find somewhere to eat, which was a real challenge. In fact, the most dodgy-looking restaurants served the best food. Getting a taxi was also a hassle, and hotels were not fantastic, to say the least. All in all, it was very much like Russia in the early nineties, except for the fact that the people looked very different; but the whole culture, the way people dressed, their mentality, it was practically identical.
How much do you travel nowadays?
I travel all the time for work. The main markets I focus on for GEMOLOGUE are the UK, Russia, Brazil, and the US; I might also be expanding into China. I have travelled a lot since I left Russia at the age of 16. I have not counted how many countries that I have been to.
I love travelling alone, and I believe that is the best way to explore a new place. You meet people you would not otherwise meet, and your experience of the place that you visit is very different. If you travel with others, you often feel like a tourist, since you do not really get the chance to immerse yourself in the local culture. I do not care much for touristy places. I want to understand how the locals live, how different their daily routines are, rather going to see the sights. I am not much of a nature person, I appreciate nature and its beauty, but I get bored quickly. I love the energy and vibrancy of a big city.
What are your future travel plans?
As a jewellery blogger, I am really interested in seeing more mines!
I would love to go to Burma (Myanmar) since it is an open country nowadays and because the best rubies come from there. Visiting that country would be a very authentic experience, since it has not yet been spoilt by mass tourism! I would also love to visit Tanzania, because tanzanites are sourced from there.
I would love to travel with Gemfields, which is the world’s leading producer of ethically-sourced rare coloured gemstones. Gemfields have their own mines and I would absolutely love to see for myself how these mines operate. In addition, there are some gold mines that I would really be interested in visiting. There is a new type of gold, called green gold: it is yellow in colour, but this gold comes from a conflict free zone. You know the exact provenance of this gold, you know that the people that work in these mines are treated well.
Apart from all these mines, another place in my bucket list is Pamukkale in Turkey, famous for its hot springs…
Do you collect any travel souvenirs?
As you can probably imagine, jewellery catches my eye, so I often buy it as a souvenir from my travels. Whenever I am abroad, I love to visit jewellery shops; I look for craftsmen who produce jewellery with their own hands using locally sourced stones. Their jewellery is usually inspired by their country, traditions and religion. It is fascinating to see what people wear in places that I visit, since it is very different to the kind of jewellery I’m used to seeing where I live.
A piece of jewellery that catches my eye does not necessarily have to be an aesthetically pleasing object, but it has to have a story; it has to have a special tie to the place that I am visiting! I love big pieces, for instance stunning neckpieces and crowns, so I sometimes just end up with a photo, since it would be too cumbersome to take a big piece of jewellery home with me! The same applies to a jewellery that is out of my budget…
You must have met some fascinating people on your travels. Can you please give me an example?
I once met a stunning old woman in Paris named Bettina Graziani, who was a renowned and much sought after supermodel in the 40’s and 50’s. She was one of the most photographed women in mid-20th century France: she worked for Vogue and many well-known designers, Chanel, Givenchy and Dior amongst others. She has been out of the spotlight for decades now; however, there is currently an exhibition on in Milan looking over her dazzling career.
Spending time with Bettina was an absolutely surreal and unforgettable experience. She had such big hair, and she was so full of life energy, regardless of her age (she was born in 1925). I went to her gorgeous boudoir flat decorated perhaps 50 years ago or so, and I learnt a great deal from her about life in mid 20th century Paris. She is such a fascinating person: she had such an incredible life story to tell, she speaks five languages fluently, and she has travelled all over the world. She was constantly chased by Hollywood agents, who wanted to put her into films. She was one of the first women to be very independent, a woman who could afford not to marry since she was earning enough money to support herself in the 50s.
Tell me a crazy story from your travels.
One day, some time ago, I realised I really wanted to see Brazil, right there and then. I booked the flight that very same day, and five hours later I left for the airport. I landed in São Paulo without knowing where I would be sleeping. I ended up having the most wonderful and colourful time. I got to know São Paulo all by myself, wandering around discovering that vibrant city. I suppose I was being slightly careless, since I was not particularly concerned just how dangerous that city could be, and I did not know what areas I should have avoided. I met up with my school friends a couple of days later and they were driving bulletproof cars. A week later I went to Rio, and experienced Rio as a local. My whole time in Brazil was very special.
I like spontaneous travelling since you are pleasantly surprised most of the time! I am not the one for planning! In fact, last week I was at a party in London and my friend called and told, ‘Lets go to Paris, lets go to France for the weekend!’ . A couple of hours later we were on our way. We drove to France, and we had the most amazing time in different cities including the first capital of old France in 486 A.D.
What are some of your favourite places?
Maldives is pretty high in the list: it is a gorgeous, perfect paradise. Visiting these islands is the ultimate luxury getaway!
There is a place in Brazil, I call it “Sardinia of Brazil” Angra dos Reis. That place is all about nature and landscapes. There are numerous beaches and islands that you can discover by boat. I had a lovely time on a sailing boat with some local people about a year ago. However, I do think that if you go there as a tourist, you would not have the same authentic experience.
What are your favourite hotels?
Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan, NYC
Chateau Les Crayeres in France
Selman Marrakech in Marrakech
How have you changed due to travelling?
Your mentality changes; you become less judgemental. It is very easy to tell if a person has travelled a lot or not; it’s all about his/her open-mindedness. If you have experienced a lot of cultures, you know that people in other countries have different mentalities, tastes, values, traditions. Travelling opens your eyes! You have your own way of living, but you also understand that life can be perceived in many different ways and that there is more to the world than you can comprehend.
If you travel just to tick off places from your list, you are not going to have very special and memorable time. I think travelling should not be about how many countries you have visited; rather, it should be about the quality of the experiences that you have in the places that you visit. It should be about how you visit them, and with whom. You need to try to learn as much as possible about the place that you visit, and you need to truly immerse yourself in the local culture. Only then, you will truly comprehend the place that you are seeing.