At the beach

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May 252009
 
Riomaggiore harbour

Riomaggiore harbour

The Cinque Terre (five terraces) are part of the Italian Riviera and are five villages by the sea, each only a short distance from the next, connected by train and a walking track.  The whole area is a National Park so it is almost impossible for there to be any new development, leaving the villages as they were (fishing, wine and other produce) before tourism.

We managed to time our visit with some major (Lance Armstrong was there) bike event in the area, so our first night in Riomaggiore was spent in a overpriced dorm with no security and a single bathroom for eight.

The Italian definition of beach, at least in this area, is not quite the same as ours.  Here the Europeans sunbathe on the concrete boat ramps or the rocks.  Admittedly, the water is a very inviting clear blue and we had our first swim of the trip!

Vernazza beach

Vernazza beach

On our last day, we caught the train to Vernazza then hiked back through Corniglia and Manarola to Riomaggiore.  Although we didn’t leave until 4pm, the sun was still very hot and the terrain, especially between Vernazza and Corniglia, was quite  steep.  The coastal views from the cliff-side track were well worth it and occasionally the track would travel through a cool olive grove or vineyard.

Views from the Vernazza-Corniglia track

Views from the Vernazza-Corniglia track

That’s all from Italy this trip.  We’ll miss the food and the friendly folk, but not the dirty trains or the table tax…

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May 222009
 
Prosciutto at Antica Salumeri

Prosciutto at Antica Salumeri

I’d like a hundred grams of prosciutto, please!

Parma is the capital of food.  Parmesan cheese, Parma ham (prosciutto) and home to the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).  Close by is Modena, home to thick, sweet balsamic vinegar.

Aside from welcoming us, our host introduced us to an excellent place for dinner, Mosaiko Ristorante.  How appropriate that the first thing we should eat was parmesan butter on crusty bread.

Our mains were:

  • Tagliata di vitello alle nocciole con patate individia e porto (Veal with nuts, potatoes and port)
  • Branzino in crosta di pane risotto croccante alle zucchine e basilico (Bass in pastry crust with risotto balls, zuccini and basil sauce)

So delicious and accompanied by a glass of red Sicilian wine.  Then followed by coffee semifreddo and chocolate soufflé.

The veal

The veal

We’ve also visited a couple of local ‘enogastronmias’ (Casa del formaggio and Antica Salumeri) for local cheese and cured meats.  At Antica, Luigi hand-turned the slicer that carved slices of prosciutto so fine they are almost transparent.  We watched in awe and in hope that the larger than life butcher would finish slicing without having a coronary.

Pancetta, parmesan and prosciutto

Pancetta, parmesan and prosciutto

So what to do with this parmesan, prosciutto and pancetta?  Well we found this thing in our apartment called a kitchen, and we set about to cook the best simple pasta around: onions, garlic, butter, white wine, pancetta, tomato, broccoli, sage, topped with parmesan and served with homemade garlic bread.  Yum!

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Parma is quite a nice city.  It has a sizeable university population and some great parks, churches and the Torrente Parma running through it.

Cattedrale, Chiesa e Monastero di San Giovanni Evangelista and Battistero

Cattedrale, Chiesa e Monastero di San Giovanni Evangelista and Battistero

May 202009
 
Typical Venice

Typical Venice

Venice is a city living on borrowed time.  Its buildings are in various states of repair, many badly in need of a paint job or replastering.  Its streets are narrow and often you’ll be confounded by a dead end.  It is slowly but surely sinking.  And I absolutely loved it!  Something about Venice just spoke to me.  If you avoid the most crowded streets and places until later in the evening, it is really quite quiet.

We were blessed to find a fantastic b&b close to the train station but in the Santa Croce district.  Al Gallion B&B was wonderful – Daniela is the owner and speaks excellent English and was amazingly helpful.   Breakfast included home made apple cake and jams.   A bargain at only €90 a night!

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

Daniela leant us “The Secret Venice of Corto Maltese,” a guidebook featuring a series of food-oriented walking itineries (how appropriate!).  Our first morning in Venice we ventured off on her recommended Orient Door itinerary.  It was a wonderful, relatively quiet way to see the real Venice.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Venice without a gondola ride, however overpriced!  Julian played the gondalier and he offered us a €10 discount.  We floated peacefully down the canals as the sky turned pink and watched Venice light up as night fell.  How romantic!

Venice from the water

Venice from the water

We also checked out the seafood market – amazing!  We wished we were staying somewhere self-contained so we could take some home to cook.  Instead, we did our research and had dinner at Osteria al Mascaron, known for its seafood pasta.  After a bit of confusion with the menu (the English version doesn’t really match up with the Italian, and pasta was listed as €28, minimum of 2 people – did that mean €14 each?) we shared the scampi spaghetti.  Words cannot adequately describe how amazing this was, so I’ll just leave you with a picture.

Best shrimp spaghetti ever!

Best shrimp spaghetti ever!

May 172009
 
Church in Florence

Church in Florence

Florence is the city that is credited with starting the Renaissance, and produced famous artists including Michelangelo and Leondardo.  Architecturally it is completely different from Rome.  Many of the building facades are flat, but heavily decorated with painted or mosaic features.

We were actually pretty bad tourists in Florence.

I think we’d both reached saturation point as far as churches, museums and art galleries go, so we laid low for most of our time there.  We also missed our opportunity to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia (no tickets left) and see some of the Renaissance art in the Uffizi Gallery (again, no tickets available).

We believe he was a revolutionary?

We believe he was a revolutionary?

So, I don’t think we’re qualified to really pass judgment on Florence.  Our experience there was good, but not great.

Osteria De'Golosi

Osteria De'Golosi

Of course, I can’t let a post go by without mentioning food!  We enjoyed some excellent traditional tuscan fare at Osteria De’Golosi.  We’re creatures of habit, so we went twice.  First time J had roasted cinta pork and I had pasta stuffed with pears and cheese (no photo sorry!).  Second time we both had tuscan specialities – I had chicken with fresh vegetables, and J had stuffed calamari with tomato sauce.  Delicious!

J's stuffed squid

J's stuffed squid

May 142009
 
Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

For us Pompeii was a day trip from Rome – 4 hours travelling each way!  We’re still not quite sure if it was worth it; I think we were expecting better displays capturing those tragic moments where everything was covered with ash.  Also, they ‘ran out’ of maps (they have a printed No More Maps sign that looks like it comes out every day) so we spent much of our time trying to find where we were.

Fear preserved in time

Fear preserved in time

Nonetheless, the site has some extremely well preserved features of the Pompeii town from AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius blew.  At the entrance to one of the houses is the first ‘Beware of Dog’ sign, a beautiful mosiac on the floor.

Cave Canem

Cave Canem

It was also interesting to see a lot of the white marble structures had been repaired with red brick after the earthquake of AD 62.  Unfortunately for the citizens of Pompeii, there was no rebuilding after the eruption.

Pompeii Forum - notice the repair work to the pillars

Pompeii Forum - notice the repair work to the pillars

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May 132009
 
Trattoria der Pallaro

Trattoria der Pallaro

We heard about this Trattoria through the ever present and reliable Rick Steves’ Best of Europe guidebook.  There is no menu – you eat (or don’t) whatever they put in front of you.  Although, based on some reviews on Trip Advisor, the menu doesn’t change all that often.

First up is an antipasto course.  Raw fennel in olive oil (not a huge fennel fan), green olives, fava beans in an awesome tomatoey gravy, the world’s best proscuitto and pretty damn good salami and of course, crusty bread.  Shortly after we were brought this, they also brought out some fried risotto balls and some other fried patty, which were very tasty but escaped the camera.

Antipasto!

Antipasto!

Next up was the pasta course – a simple red tomato sauce, heavy on the parmesan (the way we like it!).

Pasta pasta

Pasta pasta

As if this wasn’t enough, the main was next.  Roast veal, broad beans with a tasty sauce, mozzarella balls and homemade potato chips.

Main course

Main course

Finally, dessert.  Apricot flan/tart with a shot of mandarin juice!

It counts as a serve of fruit right?

It counts as a serve of fruit right?

Phew.  All this food was only 25euros per person, including house wine and mineral water.

Trattoria der Pallaro is located at Largo der Pallaro 15, near Campo de’ Fiori.

Rome in a day

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May 132009
 
The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Well it may not have been built in one, but we managed to see a good part of Rome in a day.  Heeding the many scam and pickpocket warnings we set off – alert but not alarmed – to our first stop, the Colosseum.

Tip: tourists sleep in – we were at the Colosseum at 08:50 and there was no sign of a queue!

I was not quite prepared for how well, colossal, it is/was – around 200m long by 150m wide and 50m high.  Imagine it full with 50,000 spectators and a canvas roof.  Stadiums haven’t changed much in 2,000 years but I think the ‘sport’ played in them (or fought to the death, in this case) certainly  has.

Bypassing the gladiators with whom you can have your photo taken for a not-so-small undisclosed fee (I’d like to see them harass each other or a couple of angry animals in the Colosseum), we left and made for Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.

Roman Forum (Colosseum far right)

Roman Forum (Colosseum far right)

Although we couldn’t go into the Pantheon (there was a service), the dome was still quite impressive from the outside and from what we could glimpse through the door.  Not to worry, around every corner is another church to gawk at or go inside to escape both the heat and crowds.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain (quite modern, 1762) is quite an impressive water feature, especially if you come from fountain-less Brisbane.  We tossed in a coin each, so I guess we’ll be coming back to Rome now…  Word is, a homeless person was netting €500 in early morning raids of the fountain!

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

After a siesta, we headed out to see Rome by night.  And it wouldn’t be Italy without gelato.

Giolitti's gelateria, Rome. €2 for 3 scoops, mmm...

Giolitti's gelateria, Rome. €2 for 3 scoops, mmm...

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