The lead up to Christmas in Austria Part 2 – Innsbruck


Hello! Welcome back for part two! Do appreciate you making the second stop.

Because you have been such a good sport to come back for the second part of my blog post, here, have a Austrian Christmas cookie.

Yum... Christmas cookie for you!
Yum… Christmas cookie for you!

It’s a pretty long post. So make sure you’ve taken enough visual bites of the cookies to keep you sustained for the read.

As you may recall, when Kev recovered from his flu, I started getting sick. So leaving Vienna and traveling to Innsbruck was a bit of a mission for me. I had the chills, the sweats, the sore skin, nausea and a bad stomach. Carrying around a big backpack was exhausting and I just was so over packing it. I tell you, when traveling for an extended time with just a backpack, its always a struggle to get the damn zips to meet, no matter how much stuff you send back or throw out. But I managed and we made it to Innsbruck safe and sound. When we arrived in Innsbruck, being in the middle of the mountains and seeing peaks all around us with the clouds being so much closer, I just could not help but smile and feel invigorated. Looking up and seeing such wondrous, ancient giants so close up was the distraction I needed for me to forget about my physical struggle. It also filled me with hopes of a white Christmas.

View from our hotel room at the Hilton. Mountains everywhere you look.
View from our hotel room at the Hilton. Mountains everywhere you look.

Innsbruck, is the bridge across the Inn River as explained to us by Mathias, our ski instructor. But I’ll introduce you to him later.

In Innsbruck, we enjoyed the Old Town and enjoyed more of the Christmas Markets that were open. These markets were smaller than the ones in Vienna, however, they had more hand made goods and the atmosphere was a lot more intimate.

Kev and the scary huge 'puppet'.
Kev and the scary huge ‘puppet’.
Kev with another huge scary 'puppet'.
Kev with another huge scary ‘puppet’.
Walking down maria therein strasse.
Walking down maria therein strasse.
Hrmmm... fried potatoes!
Hrmmm… fried potatoes!

Skiing

One of the big highlights of Innsbruck was learning to ski! I know that for me, I really wanted to get a good grasp of the sport. I wanted to be skilled enough so that one day if I wanted to take up the cool New Zealand ski trip packages on offer in Australia, I could do it. Kev and I decided to see how the skiing went before booking and paying for multiple days of ski hire and booked the ski equipment and lesson for one day. We had such a great time, and had such a wonderful instructor that we ended up booking two extra days.

Our ski routine was to meet our instructor, Mathias, at 8:30 and be at the slope by 9:00am. Mathias would teach us for four hours and then Kev and I would opt to continue skiing until 3:30-4:00pm. Long, long days.

The skiing around Innsbruck, Austria
The skiing around Innsbruck, Austria

I am in disbelief at how quickly we picked up the sport. First day, Mathias took us to the bottom of Patscherkofel, the base of a blue slope. For the ski noobs out there, there is a grading system for slopes and in Austria the gradings are as follows: green – used for mountain hikers and sledding; blue – easy; red – harder; and black – hardest. I think the interpretation of how hard the slopes are differ depending on where you are, but it appears that universally the colour order are the same, that being green as easiest through to black being the hardest.

The base of Patscherkofel
The base of Patscherkofel

We first learned how to snow plough. Mathias explained that we had to make our skis look like a pizza slice. We then learned how to turn and then after that we were taken up a little higher to implement the basics he taught us. He was really clear in instruction and demonstration and it really helped that it was just Kev and I. First day, we were moving. I was pretty chuffed at how I managed to not fall over once and I realised that skiing was quite a natural sport. As in, you can learn how to ski intuitively. Mathias explained that skiing originated as basic means of transportation in the mountains during winter. Back then, they just attached wooden planks to their feet to ski around and transport hay.

Kev and his skis. Holding them like a pro.
Kev and his skis. First day and already holding them like a pro.

Second day, Mathias took us to another blue slope – Seegrube. This time we skied the whole slope. It was longer than what we had skied the day before and it was really fun. I felt like I had time to change the size of the turns I was making, play around with speed and direction. The slope was enjoyable. I couldn’t help but grin all day. Mathias then took us to try out the half pipe. The half pipe had a very very steep beginning and it was perfect for him to teach us how to descend an incline that was challenging for us. After that, using the edges of the half pipe, Mathias showed us how to turn on the edges. It was thrilling for me. Going up the edge for a little bit then turning adds so much extra speed in the descent. It was thrilling in that I had to really concentrate on keeping my skis together when turning up on the edge as a lot of the time, the way down had uneven snow which would throw you off balance.

Seegrube
Seegrube
Kev on the ski lift
Kev on the ski lift
Going for the half pipe!
Going for the half pipe!
An igloo with a club inside. YUP a club!
An igloo with a club inside. YUP a club!
Going up the ski lift
Going up the ski lift
Looking down into Innsbruck from Seegrube
Looking down into Innsbruck from Seegrube

The third day, Mathias decided to take us back to Patscherkofel and took us up to the very top of the mountain. It took us about 20 minutes using two different chair lifts to get there. When we got to the top, I nearly pee’d myself. We were on top of the world… and man, it was a steep way down. It was windy and I felt as if I was going to get blown off the top of the mountain. However, it was the perfect route to put all of our newly learnt skills into practice. With Mathias leading the way and us following him, it took us over an hour to get down to the bottom. Exhausting! It was the first time in a long time where my legs almost gave way numerous times due to exhaustion. It got to the point that every 10 minutes I would need a break or I would have to start saying out loud to myself ‘legs together’, ‘together’, ‘as one’. For a while they would obey, but near the end they just did what they had to.

The top of Patscherkofel.
The top of Patscherkofel.
Kev, Mathias and I at the top of Patscherkofel.
Kev, Mathias and I at the top of Patscherkofel.

After completing the descent, Mathias said that if we wanted, he could take us to a local cabin for lunch instead of the usual ski restaurant that we had gone to. He said that the cabin served the typical, local Tyrolean dishes and its a place for locals to go, the only thing was that we had to ski there. We were really game for that opportunity, so we took the ski lift up the mountain again. When we got off the ski lift, Mathias effortlessly glided down the mountain, off the ski track and onto a unmarked, narrow path with trees on either side, thinning snow, and a rocky, muddy path before us. It wasn’t too far off the ski slope but it was a bit of a walk when we took our skis off to get there. Once we arrived, I was so happy that we made the trip! It was the sweetest place I’ve seen. First thing I marvelled at was the view of the Alps. Mathias showed us where the glacier was and the way to Italy. The second thing was the cabins themselves. They were made of wood and had a ski rack for skiers and boarders to rest their gear on. There was this wooden trough which had running water pouring out of it and at the edge of the trough, thick icicles had grown from the trough down to the earth. The Trough had an iconic squirrel on it carved out of wood. It was beautiful.

Us at the cabin that Mathias showed us.
Kev having a drink from the water trough.
I love this squirrel.
I love this squirrel.
Looking towards Italy.
Looking towards Italy.
Such a cute set up!
Such a cute set up!

The cabin inside was very, very small. You could probably only squish in 15 people. Once we got a seat, Mathias ordered for us. I had a knodel made out of potato and cheese and in a soup broth (Mathias ordered the same), and Kev had wurst and noodles in a soup broth. We all drank shandy which is a popular drink amongst Austrians to drink after sports. The meal was simple but really nice. It gave us the rest and energy that we needed for the ride down.

Eating, drinking and resting.
Eating, drinking and resting.
Tiny and warm inside.
Tiny and warm inside.

After lunch, Mathias took us back to the ski slope. He stopped and waited for us to catch up to him. Once we were ready he said ‘Ok. So I meet you at the bottom.’ In my mind I was like ‘Woah?! at the bottom?’ Mathias must have seen our surprise and he assured us saying ‘You’ll be fine, you are half way down already’ (If you scroll back up to the last map, you can see Patscher Alm. That’s where he left us). After a big smile and a wave he skied down and Kev and I were left with each other. Nervously laughing Kev said ‘ok, so you first?’ I agreed and turned my skis downwards for the ride home. The ride was exhilarating, and just as tiring as the first. The only difference was that we could set our own pace. We took the breaks that we needed and we were able to navigate our way down the slope fine. Being able to do this gave me a sense of achievement because I never imagined myself being able to ski down a mountain slope by myself without skiing off a cliff.

When we reached the bottom, Mathias was there smiling and waiting for our arrival. I thanked him for pushing us into the deep end because I knew that if we didn’t go down the slope by ourselves this time, we would not be able to go down ourselves the next time. The run gave us the confidence we needed.

An unexpected Ice Hockey game

After our exhausting day, Kev and I realised that we needed to go shopping for food supplies. It was a struggle. We were ‘forced’ out of our room because house keeping needed to get in to clean it. I was a little annoyed as they should have cleaned it a little earlier than 5pm.

When we walked out, I saw that the lights were on at the stadium across the road. I also saw a scoreboard with a count down. ‘No way…’ I said. Kev asked what I was going on about and I replied with ‘Is… is… is that an ice hockey game?’. We crossed the road to have a look and indeed it was! It was Innsbruck v Linz.

Goodbye hunger! We got all excited that we forgot about dinner, and forgot about how sore and tired we were. The atmosphere was contagious! Families attended the games and the kids where donned in the team uniform and with vuvuzelas. The away team, Linz had a very strong support group who were cheering, chanting and antagonising the Innsbruck supporters in passionate, friendly manner. And the game. Oh the drama, the speed, the tumbles, the slams into the barricades.

Our tickets to the game!
Our tickets to the game!
The Innsbruck Sharks!
The Innsbruck Sharks!

IMG_8383

The cutest mascot!
The cutest mascot!

IMG_8394

Christmas

Christmas in Innsbruck was a quiet one. The forecast for the week said that it was to rain for Christmas. So my expectations for a white Christmas was low, however, I still hoped and hoped with all my might that it would unexpectedly snow. Unfortunately, this was not so. So we had a dry Christmas, but it was still a lot of fun!

Our Christmas corner with our Christmas Tree and all the presents!
Our Christmas corner with our Christmas Tree and all the presents!

So that wraps up our time in Innsbruck, Austria!

We are currently in Copenhagen, Denmark and preparing to fly to London tomorrow night. Copenhagen has been wonderful so far! Will post about it soon!

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/uHFQX3J , http://spiked.it/a22bMHP , http://spiked.it/ns4TkFN , http://spiked.it/QDvnsXz

Advertisements

The lead up to Christmas in Austria Part 1 – Vienna


First and foremost, Merry Christmas to all! I can’t believe how quickly time flies and to think that this time last year, I was in Bali, Indonesia with my family dreading the return home and return to the office.

So I am grateful that the ‘Present Anna’ is a lot more happier than ‘Past Anna’. In fact, I think the ‘Past Anna’ would be pretty impressed at the things ‘Present Anna’ has gotten up to; and for that, I am grateful for all the things that have happened in this huge year.

One of the things that Past Anna only dreamt about, was to have a winter Christmas. Present Anna can happily say that she has ticked this dream off the list! Unfortunately, the magical white Christmas eluded us, but that did not diminish the wonder and awe that a Northern Hemisphere Christmas brings. I think of my friends and family back in Australia, enjoying their singlets, shorts, BBQs and beers and I get moments when I miss hitting the beach, the glaring brilliant sun, bringing my speakers and pumping some summery tunes, going out on my $5 body board for awesome cheap thrills, snorkelling at my home reef and eating ice cream and fish and chips after a long day by the sea. Though those moments are fleeting, as I have beautiful things around me to just take my breath away.

Anyways, now moving onto our time in Austria. Because there is so much to cover, I have split my post into two. So this one is about Vienna, and the next post will be about Innsbruck.

Vienna, Austria

After Florence, Kev and I wanted to find some snow and we wanted to go to Austria. We got in touch with Martina and Dan, who if you remember, we met in Rome at Mario’s apartment in Trastevere. Martina and Dan opened their hearts and homes to us! We ended up staying with them for a week and it was so great to get to know them better with Vienna as a back drop!

We had such long and deep conversations about culture, history and people in general over tea, chocolate and breads. We discussed the differences in Austrian German and German German (Martina gave us some really cool impressions), the nature of the close relationship between Austria and Germany (Austria being seen as the little brother of Germany) and how Australians are viewed (Australians are known for travel, and specifically for extended travels when in Europe). We also had some great chats about WWII and the German, Austrian and Australian’s point of view. What really impressed me from these conversations was that all Europeans (not just Austrians and Germans) have such a rich history which involve its neighbouring countries. As such, they are aware of culture differences and the fact that they will need to deal with those differences in their lives. This is an ongoing thing that all Europeans deal with. In Australia, being an island with no connecting countries surrounding us (where another country may walk across our boarders), we are able to live quite autonomously. But as such, we do not really see the need, to learn about the countries and cultures around us. I am amazed at how much someone in Europe will know about the culture, language and history of a neighbouring country. Whereas here I am with English as my first and only language. I mean I make efforts to learn other languages because I’m interested in them, but I will never be as fluent as the Europeans who learn from a young age. I only wish that it was compulsory for Australians to be taught about the culture, language and history of our neighbours in school and university too.

OK, so back to Vienna. Apologises for running off track… again.

Unfortunately, it was in Vienna where Kev and I were both hit by a bad case of the flu. After an awesome run around the Old Danube with Dan and I, Kev started to feel hot, chills and exhausted. He rested in the afternoon, however, he continued to get worse. To the point that his stomach wouldn’t hold food. So we stayed in and rested until Kev started getting better. However, just as Kev recovered, I started getting sick. Same symptoms. This was not ideal. So we did not see a lot of Vienna. We did however, still managed to have some low key fun indoors, and when we did get the chance to go out, we had a blast! Here are some photos that cover what we got up to in Vienna.

Martina, Dan, Kev and I on our first day in Stephansplatz, Vienna
Martina, Dan, Kev and I on our first day in Stephansplatz, Vienna
Outside the Hofburg Palace.
Outside the Hofburg Palace.
Walking down Graben, Vienna. The pedestrian beautiful street.
Walking down Graben, Vienna. The pedestrian street.
Me, Kev and Dan at the Christmas markets drinking Gluhwein.
Me, Kev and Dan at the Christmas markets drinking Gluhwein.
Martina and Dan's beautiful apartment looking out onto the Old Danube.
Martina and Dan’s beautiful apartment looking out onto the Old Danube.
Martina showing us how to cook a traditional Austrian pizza. I forgot the name of it.
Martina showing us how to cook a traditional Austrian pizza. I forgot the name of it.
Kev getting into the dough.
Kev getting into the dough.
Cycling along the Old Danube River to and from the train station.
Cycling along the Old Danube River to and from the train station.
Kev's first proper meal in Vienna after recovering from his flu.
Kev’s first proper meal in Vienna after recovering from his flu – Käsekrainer (cheese sausage) with curry sauce.
Watching a traditional Viennese 'operetta' called Die Fledermaus (The Bat).
Watching a traditional Viennese ‘operetta’ called Die Fledermaus (The Bat).
Running around the Old Danube in pretty cold weather.
Running around the Old Danube in pretty cold weather.

Christmas Markets in Vienna

Besides having a white Christmas, the other thing I really wanted to do was to see the Christmas markets! I’ve dreamed about these for years and I remember wishing that one day I could go to one. Luckily we went to Vienna as this city has so many different Christmas markets! It was unbelievable. When Kev got better, we spent one night exploring them. What can I say? I wish we had something similar back home. But it only really works when Christmas a winter one.

I loved seeing all the fairy lights bringing the usually dark and quiet squares and parks alive. The warm smells that wraps us up as we pass by, warming our numb noses and tingly cheeks. The jolly atmosphere from families walking together, eating together, drinking together and enjoying each other. This was just wonderful.

Vienna's biggest Christmas market.
Vienna’s biggest Christmas market, Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz.
Beautiful handmade decorations!
Beautiful handmade decorations!
We call them gingerbread men. However, Martina and Dan told us that these do not have ginger in them and are called lebkuchen.
We call them gingerbread men back home. However, Martina and Dan told us that these do not have ginger in them and are called lebkuchen.

IMG_3207

SPRINKLES! :)
SPRINKLES! 🙂
IMG_3209
Marshmellow kebab covered in white chocolate and coloured sprinkles! YAY!

IMG_3212

Some fried garlic bread. Don't underestimate its bland looks. This was delicious!
Lango – fried garlic bread. Don’t underestimate its bland looks. This was unbelievably delicious!

IMG_3220

Kev outside the Museum.
Kev outside the Museum Quarter.
More mulled wine
More mulled wine from the Christmas markets outside of the Museum Quarter.
Impractical bear gloves. YUP I bought them. The left one I've named Gunter and the right one is called Fredrick.
Very impractical bear gloves. And YUP I bought them. These were in the Christmas markets in District 7 – the arty area. The left one I’ve named Gunter and the right one is called Fredrick.

See what I mean? Christmas is just magical here! My pangs for a summery Christmas at home are very, very short lived.

Martina and Dan were just wonderful hosts. They allowed us to experience life as a local by showing us the cycle path to the train station, lending us their bikes, telling us were to eat and in general, really looked after us. They even helped us find a doctor for Kev to see! They’ve starting their own Airbnb arrangement for their apartment! So if you ever want a beautiful place to stay in that is on the Old Danube, and a place that will allow you to experience commuting to and from the City centre like a local, definitely look these guys up on Airbnb here : https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2012889 .

Stay tuned for part two… in Innsbruck!

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/J6bvjSz , http://spiked.it/DYtnSRs

Florence. Firenze.Italy


Florence.

Firenze.

Italy.

Beautiful in a romantic sense. Warm hues of yellow, pumpkin and chocolate come to mind when I think of Florence. My first experience walking down the Arno River was magical, and would be considered quite romantic actually. It was at sunset and the skies had turned a dusky orange. Seeing the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio made me so happy as it felt as if I was walking through a painting.

Me in Florence!
Me in Florence!

Florence has art everywhere. It has beautiful sculptures that are accessible to everyone who simply walks through the city.

This magnificent sculpture is of Perseus who stands victorious over Medusa.
This magnificent sculpture is of Perseus who stands victorious over Medusa. Viewable to all at the Piazza della Signoria.

Cooking in Florence

In Florence, I really wanted to cook my own pasta and to just reinforce all of Mario’s teachings! As such, almost all of our dinners were cooked at the apartment.  The first night we cooked using these gigantic shell pasta which looked ridiculously big. Kev really wanted to give them a try and so we did. In my opinion, these shells were way too much effort. Firstly, they were too big to fit in your mouth (I burned and blistered my bottom lip) and secondly, they took way too long to cook. Lesson – despite how fun it looks, the bigger the pasta, the less enjoyable it is to cook and eat.

Kev and our gigantic shell pasta in puttanesca sauce.
Kev and our gigantic shell pasta in puttanesca sauce.

The next day we made it to the Mercato Centrale. It had pasta, herbs, sauces, cheeses, oils and meats. Markets are always the best places to see, smell and hear how the locals live. While we looked around we found some awesome things to cook for dinner that night! I was soooo excited! Kev laughed and was amused but was also a little unsure how he was going to enjoy dinner.

Pasta from the Markets!
Pasta from the Markets!
Oh YES they are!
Oh YES they are!

IMG_3033

Kev is a little apprehensive in trying my 'penis pasta alla puttanesca'.
Kev is a little apprehensive in trying my ‘penis pasta alla puttanesca’.
It was delicious!
It was delicious!

Cooking penis pasta was A LOT of fun! I’ll be the first to admit it. When we were preparing it, one of the other guests came to the kitchen and saying ‘Hrmmmm… smells delicious! You can smell it as you walk in! What are you cooking?’

I answered ‘penis pasta’.

He didn’t respond, however, when he looked into the bowl he gasped ‘Oh! They really DO look like penises. I didn’t think they would!’ He couldn’t contain his smile, and Kev and I couldn’t contain our growing amusement. Anyways, my ‘penis pasta alla puttanesca’ aka penis pasta in whore style sauce, was a hit! And even if it wasn’t, I was sooooo amused from the wondrously dirty AND legitimate pasta name that I had created 🙂

The last night that we cooked we ended up cooking risotto! Again this turned out fabulous! I have to say that perhaps my Italian cooking has improved because I was in Italy!

Porcini mushroom risotto.
Porcini mushroom risotto.

In and around Florence

Our time in Florence was spent soaking up the local atmosphere as opposed to doing all of the usual touristy things. We found cafes which had a great view of people and of the city, and spent hours just doing that – people watching. I personally love eavesdropping on conversations and hearing them pronounce words, hearing their excitement and their sing-song sounds and watching them animate their hands and faces.

We also spent a lot of the time eating gelatos, awesome foccacia and walking around looking at local stores and leather goods.

Here are some snaps to summarise our cruisey time in Florence.

Having another caricature drawn while outside of the Duomo.
Having another caricature drawn while outside of the Duomo.
Oh my god, my cheeks... I'm a hamster with stuff in its mouth.
Oh my god, my cheeks… I’m a hamster with stuff in its mouth.
A nice sunny day in Florence.
A nice sunny day in Florence.
I'm a sagittarius.
I’m a sagittarius.
Kev's a virgo
Kev’s a virgo
This is the place to get the BEST foccacia sandwiches ALIVE! No joke, we came to this place once a day and each time there was a line! All the locals come here!
This is the place to get the BEST foccacia sandwiches ALIVE! No joke, we came to this place once a day and each time there was a line! All the locals come here!
Loving the 2 Euro self service of wine with our foccacia
Loving the 2 Euro self service of wine with our foccacia
Kev with his new haircut and loving his gelato.
Kev with his new haircut and loving his gelato.
A caricature of Kev and I.
A caricature of Kev and I (obviously drawn prior to Kev’s haircut).
My sketch of the Duomo in pen my new notebook.
My sketch of the Duomo in pen my new notebook.
On Ponte Vecchio at night.
On Ponte Vecchio at night.
In front of the replica of Michaelangelo's David at
In front of the replica of Michaelangelo’s David at the Piazza della Signoria
It's a turtle cookie!
It’s a turtle cookie!
Kev having a Florentine steak - that being 500g of meaty goodness.
Kev having a Florentine steak – that being 500g of meaty goodness.
Outside the Duomo
Outside the Duomo
“OH!”
My last Italian hot chocolate!
My last Italian hot chocolate!

Final thoughts

Looking back at our time in Florence, though we did not do a lot of the touristy things such as taking a cooking class (which is something I had wanted to do), visit the Uffizi Meseum to see the beautiful ‘Birth of Venus‘ or see the original Michaelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell Accademia, I was very happy to have appreciated the little things about the culture in Florence and Italy. I was thrilled that I tried the Italian coffee (by taking some sips off Kev as I am not a coffee drinker), surprised that I ate tiramisu that I actually liked, figured out how to cook the perfect risotto, sketched a masterpiece of the Duomo, realised that Kev and I started to desire a glass of red wine with all our meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and finally, I got to try and speak Italian in the restaurants and at the post office when trying to figure out how to send another package home full of old clothes. Being able to communicate and get a response that you were hoping for is always just so energising!

On Kev’s side, I am sure he is proud of eating all of that 500g of Florentine steak, content that he tried the famous Florentine tripe and was able to conclude that he was never eating it again, relieved to have finally gotten a hair cut, and happy to have eaten that awesome foccacia almost every day.

Oh! I forgot! I got to rub that famous Il Porcellino at Mercato Nuovo which means that I am destined to return back to Florence one day. So not all is lost!

Yay for coming back to Florence one day!
Yay to coming back to Florence one day!

 

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/2JtwNQV

Rome-ing Around


BI’m lucky enough that this was not the first time I’ve visited Rome. But I would say that this visit was a more local more respectful (less vomitting) view of Rome.

Mario & Culinary Delights in Trastevere

I know Anna’s talked lots about Mario in her post but he (and Guapo) deserve another mention just for being such an awesome host.

Old Guappo and (SUPER) Mario!

Last time in Rome I stayed with a group of friends in a hostel near Termini and we struggled to find a decent meal that was of good quality and not too expensive. This time staying with Mario who knew the best places in an area already full of great local food made eating enjoyable, affordable and WAY too easy.

View of Trastevere from our room

Hrmmm. So I’ve gone through my photos and I only just realised that we’ve actually just ate everything before we took any pictures. I guess that’s a good review right? But I’ll go through a few things I learnt:

  1. Locals know their food. Not ONCE were we pointed in the wrong direction. Italians love their food and know where to go to get the best so don’t ignore their advice.
  2. Less is more. Being used to the pizza and pasta in Perth servings and massive, pastas drown in their sauce and pizzas are overloaded with topping. Simple flavours like amatriciana (tomato sauce) sugo di carne (meat tomato sauce) and cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) turn out to be just as tasty and you don’t get the feeling of heaviness after a carb filled meal.
  3. Red wine here doesn’t give me headaches or hang overs. After being coaxed into drinking in every second meal I’ve found out that I don’t get sick. Something is different in the wine here *shrugs*.

As for places to eat we loved Augustos, Da Enzo and Nerones that were described to us as traditional. Da Enzo stands out as they have a philosophy of sourcing all their ingredients locally and prepare all their food the traditional way.

As for pastries we visited Dolci. You can skip their chocolate but the cannolis and cream filled croissants were to die for.

Ancient and Big Things

You can’t miss the ancient wonders in this city. Many of them like the Trevi Fountain and Collesseum are well known. Other’s we just stumble upon while just wandering the city. I was thankful that this time there were less tourists as it was in the colder months but it is still by no means a quiet place. Anyway here are a few obligatory photos of us in front of old things =)

The colesseum! This wasn’t its original name which was… I’ve already forgotten but yay for half listening
They say if you face away from the fountain, throw a coin over your left shoulder and hit a small child then you will return to Rome.
One of many Arches in the Palatine (old Roman city)

The most surprising and awe inspiring place of all I found was the Palatine. It was the heart of an ancient Rome where culture, commerce and, arts came together and rose imposingly in narrow streets. 3000 years later much of the glamour is gone but you get the feeling of being immersed in a city of ruins.

Temple of Saturn. Much of the marble was plundered to rebuild the modern city. And the gold was just plundered by invaders and thieves. This seems to be a common theme about monuments surviving from the ancient world.

In some ways it feels like both Ephesus and Pompeii but for me the Palatine had more grandeur. It also gets bonus points for sounding like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.

Getting bored of old things….

There is something strange about the Romans. They have signs everywhere telling people how to walk. So when in Rome…

How to take the stairs in the Vatican
Personally I don’t know why this step in the Vittoriano needed my “ATTENZIONE” but I did as I was told.
These reverent “mystic” men were showing off the way they float. I learnt to float from monkey. Oh and this is the Nouvo Piazza with some fountains from some point in time…*shrugs*

New Big Things

One more thing about Rome. Most people hear about Ancient Rome. But there is a building in Rome from only 150 years ago which I’ve never heard of but I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about it till I got there. The building is the Vittoriano. And its MASSIVE and imposing. The first time I saw it I was shocked and awed and the same for Anna when we “stumbled” upon it this time. It was a palace built by the first King of Italy but is now converted to a museum and observation point.

The Vittoriano!

It was fun because it was different from all the other old stuff. But after a while we just messed around anyway.

Anna getting crowned by an angel
Despite what this looks like its not an attempt to extinguish an eternal flame…no…no it isn’t.
High5 Angel
My pet soldier parrot

Well that’s it for Rome. Hope I’ve inspired some travelling or at least some stupidity.

P.S. Anna is still working on that chin-up.

Buongiorno Italy!


Hooray! We have finally made it to Italy!

Even though this is my third time to Europe, this is my first time to Italy! Such a surprise though, given that ever since I was really young I loved pasta and my parents would always say “You should marry an Italian!”

Anyways, things have been a bit hectic and so I haven’t had the chance to blog about our time in Naples or Rome. We are currently in the beautiful city of Florence, however, I will try and keep this post about Naples and Rome and will cover Florence in the future. We are intending to stay in Florence until Friday 6 December 2013 (so there will be ample time to blog more!).

My idea of how Italy would be before arriving to this country looked a bit like this – pasta and pizza every day, men with slick hair and people talking with their hands.

Let me be the first to tell you, that Italy is exactly like this, but better! From my current experience in Italy, I found that Italians make fantastic pasta and pizza. They taste completely different to the pasta and pizza in Australia, a lot simpler, but you can taste each ingredient used. Also, good quality pasta and pizza does not leave you feeling bloated and heavy.

A typical first course meal in a local Roman restaurant called 'Da Enzo' - Rigatoni and Cacio e pepe with red wine.
A typical first course meal in a local Roman restaurant called ‘Da Enzo’ – Rigatoni and Cacio e pepe with red wine.

Italian men, they aren’t as slicked hair as I had thought, but the men and women do dress really well here. Talking with their hands. This is something the Italians most certainly do, however, I noticed that they talk not with just their hands, but with all of their being. This I really love! I can really relate to them as I do feel like I express my thoughts and feelings with my hands, body and energy and they do it straight back to me! I may not be able to speak Italian well, but so far, I’ve been able to make myself be understood.

Naples, Italy

Our first stop in Italy was actually the second last port of call on our cruise. We arrived in Naples and we disembarked our ship to take a tour of Pompeii! Pompeii is a wonderful place! Different to the other ancient cities that we had visited as this city was clearly different in the feel of the buildings and design of the cities. This was clearly a ‘Roman’ city. Little things like streets being built with these speed-bump-like obstacles which only permitted the standard Roman chariot, which was very cool. Foreigners who did not have the standard Roman chariot could rent one! Our tour guide made a joke about Avis first appearing in Italy.

Here’s some photos of our day:

Entry into the city of Pompeii
Entry into the city of Pompeii
Side street in Pompeii
Side street in Pompeii
Kevin and a wall fresco of a bull
Kevin and a wall fresco of a bull
Fiery deer fresco
Fiery deer fresco
Flying goat…lion…?
Flying goat…lion…?
The McDonalds of Pompeii - a fast food joint.
The McDonalds of Pompeii – a fast food joint.
An eerie figure..
An eerie figure..

Roma, Italy

Ah Rome. I couldn’t believe that we arrived in Rome when we did. There was that feeling of disbelief, that I was in one of the most famous cities in Europe. I’m going to keep my post in Rome about my overall experience and will let Kev post about what we saw and what did there.

Rome for me was about two things, which I have mentioned briefly above – the people and the food.

After holding out on the pizza and pasta that was readily available on the cruise (and being a pasta lover, it was very difficult for me to do so especially when there was a pasta station with a chef who would cook your pasta there and then!), I was ready and eager to dig into the local food. We ended up staying in an apartment that we found though Airbnb in the area of Trastevere. We met Mario and his dog Guapo and I knew instantly that this was going to be an awesome stay. Mario’s place was simple, but warm. There were three other groups staying at the apartment and Mario really opened his heart to all, allowing us to feel welcomed and not shy to chat with each other. He really encouraged all to get to know each other and within hours, I know I felt like I was at home.

Mario helped us with directions, local knowledge of where to eat and what places to avoid. Insider tip, the Italians eat from 7pm onwards. This is a small adjustment for us as we normally eat at 6pm. Any restaurant that is open earlier than that is apparently ‘not good’. When we told Mario that we had already eaten dinner one night, his eyes almost fell out of his head and he protested ‘No no no no! That means you did not eat at a good place!’ After that, he insisted that we eat with him. I protested politely as I knew Kev and I were stuffed. Well I knew that I was.  However, regardless of me saying I wanted ‘nothing’, we ended up at the dinner table having second dinner, that being home made pasta by Mario.

This was not the only instance where we were treated to home made Italian pasta. Mario insisted that we join him on three occasions. One occasion he asked me ‘So Anna, having nothing again tonight?’ ‘Uh… yes…’ I smiled while I started to regret eating dinner again. ‘OK. I will consider that in the amount of pasta I make. Is Kevin having nothing too?!’ ( 🙂 Big Love! He looked after us so well). Once Mario started dinner, me and Guapo would stand next to Mario has he worked his magic around the kitchen. Me hungry to learn how to cook pasta the Italian way; Guapo hungry to eat anything that fell on the floor. I had mentioned to Mario that we wanted to take cooking lessons and learn how to make pasta, he recommended us a place, but after the second night there Mario said ‘Since you guys are nice, how would you like me to teach you how to make pasta? You got to be ready to do a lot of work.’  I was ecstatic and told him I was up for it and that I was sure Kev would be up for it. Mario asked the other groups if they would like to join us, however, only Martina and Dan from Vienna were keen.

Martina and Dan were a wonderfully fun couple that Kev and I got to know during our time at Mario’s place. The first day we met them we spent the night chatting at the dinner table about where we were from (us from Australia, Dan from Berlin but now currently living with Martina in Vienna), cultural idiosyncracies and just randoms stuff. Mario joined us and offered us some grappa (to which we all politely declined), however, as the conversation took off, Mario stealthily poured us all a glass of grappa anyways! Some of the interesting things I learnt that night were:

1. US/English speaking movies that are shown in Europe either are dubbed or subtitled. If they are dubbed, the American or English speaking actor has his/her own voice over actor! The example given to us was that the voice over actor for Tom Hanks will always be the voice over for Tom Hanks. So Europeans can recognise his voice over and associate it with Tom Hanks. However, the voice over actor for Tom Hanks is also the voice over for Bruce Willis and Gerard Depardieu! We were told that it can get quite confusing.

2. Sandra Bullock can speak flawless German. She has a flawless accent and both Martina and Dan were amazed at how well she can speak. I kid you not, she sounds awesome. It blew my mind when we YouTubed it. I really loved her before but she just got awesomer!

3. When we continued to chat about English speaking actors who can speak German, Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender came up. I love both actors, and both of them were in the movie Inglorious Bastards. Funnily, Dan referred us to the scene where Michael Fassbender’s character gives away his ID when he orders ‘three drinks’. Dan wanted to know whether it was true that we signal three with our hands using our index, middle and ring fingers! Kev and I laughed so hard because we have always wanted to know whether it was really true that Germans used their thumb, pointer and middle fingers to signal three. As you can tell, our conversation confirmed this tiny, but facinating cultural difference which would not have been picked up by either of us, but for Quentin Tarintino’s film. The scene which I refer to can be found here.

The next day, Martina and Dan had planned to go to the Colosseum, whereas Kev and I were tossing up between there and the Vatican. Kev and I left a lot later than them but decided to go to the ancient ruins instead of the Vatican because the weather was good. By good luck, we bumped into Martina and Dan around 2pm on the bottom floor of the Colosseum! We all were starving and had pretty much finished exploring. Kev and I suggested that we try a trattoria that Mario recommended. A Trattoria which was the ‘typical’ Roman soccer fanatic type – loud, lively, slightly gruff but not intending to be rude, and with great pasta and pizza. Martina and Dan liked the sound of that and agreed to join us. We had a great time there watching the locals talk and eat.

Outside the colosseum.
Outside the colosseum.
Awesome foursome selfie of Dan and Martina, Kev and I.
Awesome foursome selfie of Dan and Martina, Kev and I.

All this bonding naturally made cooking pasta together with Mario and Guapo really fun and comfortable! This night was by far the best night in Europe so far! Mario filled the kitchen with life, fun and energy! I could’t help but relish in the positive vibes that bounced from the walls. The tiny kitchen was cozy for five people and a dog to fit in, but it worked!

Pasta is SOOOOOO FUN!
Pasta is SOOOOOO FUN! Eating and making! I can’t contain myself! GAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!
Mario, our host showing us how the Italians do it.
Mario, our host showing us how the Italians do it.
1453494_650283101696639_607133426_n
Mario said you only need one person to do this. Us rookies needed three.
Look at our looooong pasta!
Look at our looooong pasta!
Mario cooking our pasta al dente.
Mario cooking our pasta al dente.
Serving up our meal.
Serving up our meal.
YUM!
YUM! This was the BEST pasta ever!

On Martina and Dan’s last night in Rome, we all went to their favourite Bar, Antico Caffe Del Moro, for some final drinks!

Dan, Kev, Me, Martina and Mario.
Dan, Kev, Me, Martina and Mario at Antico Caffe Del Moro

It was sad to see them go. It was always nice bumping into them in the kitchen, dining room, our hallway chats or in between the rush for the bathroom. We didn’t get to see them off, however, when Kev and I returned from the Vatican, we saw this napkin note which was slid under our door:

LOVE :)
LOVE 🙂

Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the other lovely people that we met at Mario’s place. We met two German sisters who left on the same day as Martina and Dan, Nathan and Hillary from New Orleans and Alicia from Seattle. Everyone was so nice and friendly! And, after Mario’s insistence over the time of our stay, on our last night in Rome, I brought out my ukulele to play some tunes. Luckily I had a few glasses of wine to calm the nerves of playing and singing for a small group of people who I just met. But it was a BAG full of fun! Most of them knew the songs I could play (Alicia is a karaoke queen!!!). Mario then asked me to play an Italian song, to which I was unable to do so as I didn’t know the song well enough to play just by looking at the chords. I felt super bad because of all people, I would have loved to have obliged him given that he had looked after us so well. By the end of our ukulele-singing-YouTubing-bonding session, we all were smiling and we decided to call it a night at 1.30am. What a night! Now I am determined to learn one Italian song before I leave this country!

*** By way of update (04/12/2013) Mario has sent me a short video clip which he created for our ukulele night! You can meet Guapo, Alicia, Nathan and Hillary here! 🙂

I should be Italian

As mentioned earlier, my parents always thought that I was secretly Italian, or that I should marry an Italian. While exploring Rome, we stumbled across some confirmations that I really do belong here:

My street!
My street!
Actually, it's Anna everywhere in Rome!
Actually, it’s Anna everywhere in Rome!

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/PbduoT2