Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You can't do the Louvre in one day !!

You just can't.
There are so many exhibit halls to see that you really need to break it up over three days.

On this day (Monday), I decided to see the Roman, Greek, Etruscan & Egyptian sculptures followed by a quick drive of the "Mona Lisa" (or at least watching the people taking photos of said painting).

Tania decided on the Near Eastern (Persian) & European paintings.

I did see the "Mona Lisa": couldn't miss really with all the crowds in front of it. I know that along the way to seeing it, I know I wandered past & missed quite a few paintings from Leonardo da Vinci & Sandro Botticelli.

I also saw the "Venus de Milo" but my favourite sculpture was the Greek "Artemis & fawn". It's simply stunning.

The day was broken up with lunch before a second round of the galleries. It was well worth the visit.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was supposed to be spent touring some of the Champagne houses of Rheims but setting the alarm wrong resulted in us sleeping in & deciding on a lesiurely walk around the streets of Paris.

Can I just say that the "lesiurely" walk of about 6.5hrs (walking past the Louvre, to Place de la Concorde, continuing down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe; then over to the Eiffel Tower, back to the Trocadero & then back home) damm near killed us. Between Tania's ankles & my knees, we were both the worst for it.

Today (Wednesday) was spent recovering.
Well...this will be our last post from Europe as we head of to Hong Kong tomorrow.

We are so looking forward to Asian food !!

Take care.

In Paris - fun and games

We finally made it to Paris.

The overnight train from Venice pulled in to Paris Bercy station right on time.

We were met by our rather surly french driver who would take us to our apartment in the area of the Bastille. Along the way, we were informed that the apartment we'd originally booked was not available due to "flooding" & that we were being taken a new apartment (still in the same block).

Well....this apartment was.....quite literally....a dump !!! It was a ground floor apartment; one room; with a loft bedroom that had a ceiling height of only 4ft (it was like a sarcophagus); it was dirty; the paint was peeling off the walls & getting into the toilet required a degree of gymnastic flexibility that neither Tania or myself are capable of.

We immediately said this was unacceptable & got onto the people we rented the apartment through. They were VERY helpful & offered us another apartment over by the Louvre. We got to this new apartment & OMG !! What a difference !!

We are staying in a two bedroom apartment with plenty of space to spread out over, two blocks away from the river Seine & about three blocks from the Louvre museum. We have our own bakery downstairs (serving the best croissants !!) & there is no end to the number of cafes & restaurants we can choose to go to.

I'm liking this already !!

Rating the meals in Italy

We've had a bit of a think about the meals we've had in Italy & have tried to rate them. Here's what we've come up with:

Best value meal: well...we didn't actually pay for these but the meals my cousin cooked us everynight we stayed in Friuli were simply amazing (the variety, the amount, the taste & the accompanying home-made wines). Nothing beats home-cooked meals.

Worst meal: see my comments in the previous post about the meal on the train

Best meal: the meal at "Barolo & Co. No.1" (see the post "the heart of truffles and red wines") in Asti (the great food & amazing accompanying wines).The meal topped off a great night in this little out-of-the-way place in Northern Italy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Don't believe the hype

Well...we’d booked the “honeymoon” suite on the overnight train from Venice to Paris. We were quite excited about it. We hopped onto the train & this was the reality of what we’d booked:

Obviously....the word “doppio” has more than one meaning !!
Plus...we had to fit all the bags you saw in the photo in my previous post: it required some logistical syncronisation.

To ease the pain of the trip, we bought some pre-mixed Bellinis from this little shop near the station: they were so much better than the stuff at “Harry’s Bar”. Obviously a different supplier.

While on the train, we were offered a seat in the dining car & booking for dinner. We thought: why not !!

We knew it wasn't going to be like the dinner on the train in the movie "Casino Royale", but we thought it would be nice.

Well...what we got was a entree of penne pasta with a simple pork ragu (or tomato-based sauce); one piece of bread; a main of braised beef & veal (the beef was over-cooked & quite tough); a slice of really lovely cake & a selection of fruit (not too good looking pears or apples). Served with two 500ml bottles of Sicilian red & a bottle of water....the total cost of the meal came to.......drum roll please.........euro 81.20 !!!

Loaded up for the train trip

Here's a photo of me on the Vaparetto, heading to the train station. These are all our bags !!

The black bag on the left contains all the shopping we've picked up over the last three weeks. It weighs 14kgs !!

A day at Murano

Took a bit of a break from Venice today & headed out to the island of Murano.

We got the Vaparetto & took in the scenery of Venice (& even saw the snow-covered Alps off in the background). At one point, a group of old ladies got on to the boat: they were dressed in their best furs (we’re talking rare-endangered species-type fur....damm..they looked good in them !!) & had their (real) Louis Vuitton bags. They chattered away & all got off at this one stop.
Obviously it was all happening there.

Murano is like Venice on dope. It’s way slower & far more mellow.

We spent our time there wandering the shops.

We ended up buying some beautiful glasses.

Lunch was at this little bar: the only one we could find open. We started up a conversation with these two guys beside us who worked on the island. We talked food, wine & travel and our mutual dislike of the Parisians!

Wandering in Venice

Ah Venice !!
We spent three lovely days here, exploring the streets & the shops (bought some beautiful leather diaries; leather address books, a lovely pen & this really cool letter opener).

Our hotel was little place tucked away in (what seemed) one of the more up-market parts of Venice: D&G, Prada & Bulgari were just some of the shops we would walk past on our way to St. Mark’s Square (a three minute walk).
The Vaporetto dropped us off at our hotel stop right out the front of the famous “Harry’s Bar” (we thought that to be some sort of sign). For those that don’t know, “Harry’s Bar” is where the Bellini cocktail (Prosecco & peach puree) was created. just have to go there to try a true Bellini & that’s what we did.
The place is smaller than we expected but it certainly oozes class (what were we doing there then you ask ??). The waiters all looked as though they’d just come off shift from one of the bars on the Titanic. We tried the original Bellini & I have to was kinda disappointing !! We suspect that they have a big batch of the stuff pre-mixed under the bar & that’s what they served us. Oh have to try these things.
Speaking of trying case you were wondering how much a cappuccino costs in St. Mark’s Square: we popped into this bar & ordered a cappuccino & macchiato. The cost: Euro 18.20 !! Ouch !!

Foggy in Friuli

The last three days we had in Friuli were notable for the foggy days. It was quite thick fog that made “sight-seeing” very difficult.
On the day we went to San Danielle,,,we drove up above the fog & could see it on the plains. By the time we'd had lunch there, the fog was rolling up the hills.
There was one very memorable drive at night from another cousin's to where we were staying: we could not see jack shit & neither could my cousin. It was just as well he knew the roads !!

The photos are from our visit to the medieval town of Valvazone.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pigging out in Friuli (literally)

Well folks......the last few days have been spent in Friuli (over in the north-east...bordering Austria & Slovenia), staying with the relatives.

We've since put back on a bit of the weight we'd lost from all the walking around we'd done in Torino, Asti, Alba, Bologna, Modena & Verona.

The relatives have really taken a shine to Tania & the hospitality has been really great. We can’t thank everyone enough for everything they’ve done for us.

We’ve visited towns such as Udine (the former provincial capital); Cividale di Friuli, Aquileila (home of amazing early Christian mosaics), San Danielle del Friuli (famous for its prosciuttos), Grado & other little mountain towns in the area.

The last two days have been quite foggy & make “sightseeing” rather difficult (& dangerous to drive in....especially at night).

The culinary highlights in Friuli have been:

“Gubana” - a Friulani dessert, kinda like a Panetone but with alcohol in it (see below)

A degaustation of prosciutto at San Danielle (what better lunch can you think than a plate full of ham....mmmmmmm .
The seafood from around Grado (we spent four hours yesterday having a big seafood fry up)
The local wines (that don’t seem to give you hangovers the next morning)
Tomorrow...we’re off to Venice...can’t wait.

'Tis in Verona where our fair story is set...

We had an overnight stay in Verona: the place where I was going to propose to Tania (in a two Michelin star restaurant called "Il Desco".
We didn't get to "Il Desco" for dinner but found this lovely place called "Al Pompiere". We chose a mixed cheese platter for an entree; Tania had a Lamb Shank; I had Bacala (salted cod in a white sauce) with polenta.
The wine we chose was a lovely Valpolicello (reserve 2006) that really went well with all the meals. Dessert (for me) was an orange sorbet while Tania had the tiramisu. They were accompanied by a flora muscat-type drink for me & a sweet Valpolicello for Tania.
Yes...we did go & see Juliet's house & no...Tania did not hop onto the balcony. She did resist the urge to get onto the balcony to yell "Oi !! Romeo !!! Get your love sick arse up here pronto !!".

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mythical Bolognese

Well.....we were wondering if such a dish existed, especially after last night's adventures !!
We popped into "Eataly" for dinner last night: it's a restaurant & shop chain set up by the Slow Food movement (quite big in this part of Italy).
Can someone explain to me how a restaurant in Bologna....runs out of Bolognese ??
Also...can someone explain how restaurant can't make up a plate of cheeses & salami when the restaurant is being run out of the freakin' deli where WE CAN SEE THE CHEESES & SALAMI on display ??
And...while I'm on a rant...since when does "al dente" mean "raw in the middle" ?? that I've had my little rant.......we had a lovely plate of tagliatelli al ragu (tagliatelli with bolognese) Modena !!

What does one do in Modena ??'re travelling through Modena & you're wondering what sort of souvenir will you find in this lovely town ??

Well...have I got the souvenir for you !!

It's a 100ml bottle of Aceta Balsamico Tradizionale aged for 40yrs. can be yours for the bargin price of Euro 140.00 !!

Yep.....that's what I did today.

Enough said I reckon.

Bologna - Oh how I love pork !!

How many ways can you eat pork in Bologna ??

Let me count the ways !!

Friday, January 07, 2011

The heart of truffles & red wines

We now find our intrepid explorers in the heart of the Truffle region in Piedmonte: Asti.

We got here yesterday (Thursday) & have had a wonderful time walking the streets of this lovely town, sampling the dishes (& wines) of the region.

I introduced Tania to an Italian tradition yesterday: porchetta (a white roll of roasted pork, cooked for two days, with onions, chillies & roasted capsicum.....with a pinch of salt & a bit of mayonnaise).

OMG !!!! It is so yum !!!

This is me sampling a porchetta...below is what the porchetta looks like.

While wandering around Asti last night to find a nice place to eat, we found this bar at the tip of the main Campo that seemed to be happening (lots of people coming & going). We went in for a drink & discovered THE most amazing barman who spoke the international language of alcohol. I’m loving the Campari spritzers he does !!! And...the selection of tapas-like nibbles has to be seen to be believed.

But I digress !!! We went to dinner at this little place hidden off a side street. It’s called “Barolo & Co No. 1” & it served some of the most mouth-watering food we’ve had so far. We went in there with an idea of what we wanted to order, but as it turned out.....we had this mini-degaustation of:

rare veal with olive oil & parmigianno; a selection of Piedmonte cheese & boiled chicken with rocket

a plate of “maltagliatti” (rough cut) pasta with this amazing cream of truffle sauce. It was SO good !!

Tania had the Panna Cotta while I had a selection of local desserts (because I could !!)

Served with a Reserve Barbera D’Asti & finished with a cafe “corretto” made for the best meal.

Today was spent in the Truffle town of Alba where we went nuts buying a selection of truffle-related products including Porcini powder (we’re going to try to make our own Porcini pasta when we get to India).

The culinary highlight (so far) today...was Agnilotti al Pin con burro e salvia (Agniolotti pasta in a sage butter sauce.......yum !!)

Well...that’s it from us in this post. We’re off to Bologna tomorrow (the culinary heart of Italy : can’t wait to spend the morning wandering the great covered market).

Until then....take care.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Cafe-hopping in Torino

When we last left our wayward & wandering adventurers, they were trawling the various coffee & chocolate houses in the fair city of Torino. it was discovered that some of the said coffee & chocolate houses also serve a fine selection of wines & Champagne for quite reasonable prices (we paid 3 Euros for a glass of Moscato at one place & paid 8 Euros for a glass of Tattinger at another). The catch is that you don’t sit down & just stand there at the bar. have to see the selection of nibblies you get for standing at the bar (for those who can't eat's best to check under the cheese for that odd piece of anchovie: Tania nearly hurled her nibbly back across the bar !!). This one place we went to......Cafe one the original Turin-style bars that has turn-of-the-19th Century decor, impeccably dressed staff & a selection of mouth-watering delicacies (see below).

I have to say...we’re loving this cafe-hopping !!

Also...we found the best selection of classy kitsch fridge magnets (photo to follow soon)....including a Shroud of Turin fridge magnet (gotta love that Catholic Church marketing machine !!).

Every chocolate shops reckons their chocolates are the best in the city (you have to try the gelatine fruits too !!!) but you know what?? They’re all great !! You’ll go ga-ga over any of the chocolates here !!

Well...that’s it from us for this post. Until the next one....Take care.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Greetings from Torino

Well folks,

This next part of the trip sees us in wonderful Turin (Torino): the city of Gianduja chocolate & Lavazza chocolate.

It's one of my favourite cities in Italy & I just love wandering the streets to soak up the atmosphere (& all the shops).

Torino is one of the great culinary cities of Italy: mainly due to it's great coffee (Lavazza is based here) & the endless supply of chocolate shops (many of then artisan) that abound throughout the city.

Tania & I are making the most of trying to taking in as many of the said coffee & chocolate houses that we can.
The most famous coffee house is this place (see below):
Al Bicerin. What you see in this photo is the famous Bicerin drink (a hot drink of coffee, hazelnut chocolate & cream). Mmmmm....can you feel those artieries hardening ??

In order to make up for all that chocolaty goodness, Tanika & I have done a fair bit of walking around the city (it is such an easy place to walk around (see the old roman Gate below:)

Well....that's it from us at the moment. Another day of exploring the great coffee houses, chocolate shops...oh & museums tomorrow.

Tania asked me to mention that she picked up this great pair of faux fur-lined crocs (I don't it either !!)

Until the next post. Take care.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Years in Edinburgh

Hiya folks,

Happy New Years from Edinburgh. Tania, Mary-Ann & myself wandered into town last night to celebrate Hogmanay. We didn't actually get to the official street party, but kinda wandered around the periphery from pub to pub before popping into a party of friends of Mary-Ann: they were all writers.

We were nannas & left the party before the clock hit midnight (watched the fireworks on TV though).

Today was spent recovering from last night's festivities: we went to this great place called "Monster Mash" which specialises in Bangers & Mash (you choose the sausage; the type of mash; the gravy & sides). It was just the sort of thing that you needed on a day like today...really hit the spot.

We then wandered down into the old town & just have a look around. Lots of things going on & lots of pubs open.

Welcome to 2011 !! Hope you all had a great New Years.