A writer’s rut

24 Feb

I love to write, but lately everything that has been coming out of my fingers (and mind) is not worthy of reading. So, I say, when in a writer’s rut, share some beautiful music.

 

Just another reason to love Russia. Amongst others:

St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow. This is #1 on my bucket list. Planning to go for my 30th birthday, but husband is yet to know (my birthday is in the middle of Russian winter, so most likely he will protest).

Nikolai Gogol – my favourite Russian writer, also hilarious

Nabokov – another awesome Russian writer, he too, hilarious

Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment and I fell in love with a murderer named Raskolnikov and learnt how Russians name their children

My most favourite mug featuring Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral

In Perú I started reading Anna Karenina…

…I finished reading it in Cuba and found the DVD rather randomly… naturally I bought it!

And this is Snowball. I’ll let you decipher this one yourself. Hint: Frida Kahlo.

Chocolate macarons

7 Feb

My first macaron was bought here in Melbourne at a recommended cafe. It was okay, but it reminded me a lot of the plain meringues my mum used to buy me when I was little. Egg white, sugar and sprinkles.

My second macaron also was not life-changing.

My third macaron, however, was a game changer. It was purchased from a nice lady at the old North Melbourne Market at the Lithuanian Club. It was an Earl Grey Macaron. It was absolutely delicious, and changed my perspective on macarons forever. (And I don’t even really like Earl Grey tea either).

When my mother-in-law (suegra) visited a year ago, she was enthralled with Melbourne’s macaron-madness. Having just come from Costa Rica, a country whose macaron craze was only just beginning and still a rather expensive delicacy, she was on a mission to try a macaron for the first time. On one of her shopping trips she bought a packet of Adriano Zumbo’s Passionfruit Macarons kit. We made them and they were pretty damned good.

Later, after many months of using one egg yolk in a recipe here and there, I had enough frozen egg whites to make my own macarons from scratch. I came across a recipe that didn’t look too painful (i.e. no “68g aged egg whites” or “candy thermometer required” recipes).

Overall, visually I think my first macarons-from-scratch attempt was pretty good. There were feet, which is always a sign of success (regardless of how puffy the feet were…)

As for the apparent painfulness of baking macarons, I kindly disagree. They were no more difficult than baking anything, and probably less so than any grand cake. The only painful part would be finding a use for the unused egg yolks.

Taste-wise, absolutely delicious. I was shocked that I made these. They tasted very, very good. This is an excellent recipe for a first-time macaron-maker.

These macarons are not the last I’ve eaten. That award goes to Ladurée, which I got to try in Florence which was also very yummy. I am  now a macaron-convert and have joined the bandwagon.

Chocolate Macarons

Adapted from Chow

Makes about 30

Ingredients

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar

Ganache filling:

  • 120g milk or dark chocolate, finely chopped (4oz)
  • 1/2 cup thickened cream
  • 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed (1oz)

Method

1. Print my macaron template so you have even-sized macaron shells. Place the template under baking paper and trace with a marker. Flip the baking paper upside down (so you’re not putting macaron dough onto ink) and onto as many baking trays as you need. Set the baking trays aside. Fit a large pastry bag with a plain circular tip (about 1.3cm or 1/2in).

2. Place icing sugar, almond meal, cocoa and salt in food processor and pulse several times to aerate. Process until fine, for about 30 seconds. Sift into another bowl and set aside.

3. Place egg whites in a clean bowl. Use electric beaters or stand mixer with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds, or until foamy.

4. Add cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium high and beat until white, for about 1 minute.

5. Slowly add the caster sugar while beating until combined and the peaks are stiff, about 1 minute. Do not overmix. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.

6. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the dry mixture into the meringue mixture in 4 batches until just combined. The meringue should flatten. Stop folding when you can no longer see the egg whites (it should look like cake batter.)

7. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pastry bag. Pipe circles onto the prepared baking paper circle templates.

8. Bang the baking trays against the countertop to flatten. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

9. Pre-heat oven to 180°C (350°F). Bake the macarons on the middle rack, one tray at a time. Rotate trays after 7 minutes and bake for a total of 14 minutes per tray. Transfer each baking sheet to a rack to cool completely.

10. Ganache filling: Place the chocolate in a large heatproof  bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to boil. Stir the warmed cream into the chocolate until combined. Let sit for 1 minute. Add butter and stir until smooth. Chill in the fridge until thickened but spreadable, about 30 minutes.

11. To assemble, pair macaron shells of a similar size. You can either pipe the ganache for a finished look, or spoon it on, about the amount of a size of a cherry. Sandwich the macaron pair together around the ganache filling. Make sure the filling sits within the edges of each biscuit.

12. Refrigerate, covered, for 24 hours before serving.

Barcelona, Spain

23 Dec

It was the beginning of the end. Barcelona. Alex and I were very much looking forward to speaking Spanish!

And Spanish we did not speak. It turns out that los barcelonés mostly speak Catalán, so much so that some exit signs were in Catalán only. I think next time we’ll have to travel further into the country to practice our (my) Spanish.

Nevertheless, we did actually speak Spanish for most of our time in Barcelona, because a) people from Spain obviously speak Spanish also, and b) our tour guide Diego, aka my brother-in-law, accompanied us throughout our stay in the country.

Diego took us on our first train journey, from El Prat airport to the city of Barcelona. Our hotel was located right next to la Sagrada Familia, probably the most famous attraction in Barcelona. It’s an exuberant cathedral that has been under construction for over 100 years. This is because the architect, Gaudí, died during its long period of construction. It’s almost finished, apparently. Even so, its exterior is magnificent.

We had had a very long morning (our day had started in Rome) and it was time for lunch. Tapas, of course. Tapas is super cheap. We love tapas. We had delicious mustard chicken, delectable cheese fondue, salty olives and overall a very nice time.

It was time for more sightseeing. We headed south and encountered a marvellous comic book store (Norma Comics), although it was more of a graphic novel store. I found this gem of a graphic novel and was very tempted to purchase it. It’s a touching story of the friendship between a croquette and a little empanada:

We continued until we found Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf.

This structure was the entrance to a grand palm tree-lined path leading towards Parc de la Ciutadella. This is a lovely, relaxed inner-city park, filled with what seemed to be carefree university students, juggling, slacklining and conversing. We approached an imposing fountain featuring a sightly podium as a backdrop.

Our tour guide then directed us to the famed Barri Gotìc, which features buildings dating back to medieval times. We soon encountered the multilayered Barcelona Cathedral as well as many other old and detailed structures.

We were taken to El Corte Ingles, a supermaket-cum-department store, full of fancy foreign food and wine. We had fun looking through aisles of Spanish candy, wine (also cider), and vegetarian food. We made some purchases.

That night we went with our tour guide to meet the Costa Ricans of Spain, as a couple was having a barbecue. We caught a train to their house in the suburbs. Their apartment had the most magnificent view of Barcelona, however, we didn’t bring our cameras, so you will need to imagine the gorgeousness of Barcelona in its entirety, bathed with the setting sun. Fireworks were set off all night throughout the city and we could see all, from beach to mountain. The occasion was the Nit de Sant Joan, or, the Summer Solstice.

The following day was our Sagrada Familia interior day. I first visited the Sagrada 7 years ago, and in those days the interior was still not yet open to the public. This time however, its doors were welcoming us.

The interior was absolutely ridiculous (when I use the word ridiculous, I actually mean phantasmagorically phenomenal). I cannot believe that this was designed over one hundred years ago. It is so postmodern (by that I mean – after modern). I think the cranes are part of the architecture because they have been there for so long. There is so much detail in the interior. I particularly enjoyed viewing the fractured stained glass.

We had a ticket to ascend the right tower. We inclined up and up a tight spiral staircase, gaining unique perspectives of the façade, as well as magnificent city views, as we arose.

After our delightful visit to a most amazing monument, it was time for lunch! We ate sandwiches at a nice cafe on our way to Park Güell. By the time we had reached Park Güell it had been raining a humid type of rain and we were stranded umbrella-less at the gift shop. We waited for the rain to slow down a little before making our way up to the highest point of the park, encountering our first dodgy salesmen in Barcelona who were selling plastic ponchos for €10 (€0.50 RRP). People were actually buying them! The rain did not kill us. We made our way to the top and found ourselves another beautiful view of Barcelona.

Parts of Park Güell were designed by Gaudí. Parts of Park Güell were reminiscent of gingerbread houses.

Our next tourist attraction was Gaudi’s Casa Battlo (via Gaudi’s Casa Mila, which was scaffolded, so there really is no need to mention it). Casa Battlo is a very non-linear building. I rather liked it.

I also liked the building to the right of it, but apparently that was designed by Gaudi’s competitor, so it’s best to stay neutral. That building was the much more linear Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

That night we went to a nearby pub with our new Costa Rica friends to watch Costa Rica beat England. As you could imagine, there were many more English supporters, being the country next door to Spain (or, over the water and next door).

We finished the night with more tapas, overlooking the Sagrada Familia, with our new friends (one of whom turned out to be cousins with our Costa Rican friend in Melbourne. Costa Rica is a small country).

On our third day we caught the metro to Plaça d’Espanya to meet up with our tour guide (aka bro-in-law Diego). The Plaça d’Espanya was a nice place to wait for him. It is home to an old bullfighting ring and a grand fountain.

Alex just had to visit the famed Barcelona Pabellón (or, Pavillion). It is an architect’s delight, which features the world-famous Barcelona chairs. Alex had fun on his field trip whilst Diego and I had a coffee nearby. My first and only Spanish coffee verdict: excellent. I only drank two coffee shop coffees in 26 days – shame on me.

We walked up many stairs and saw many wonderful views to get to the mountain that is Montjuïc. Montjuïc is where the Barcelona Olympic stadium is. The Barcelona Olympics are the first Olympics I remember, and thus Barcelona is the only international city I was aware of before the age of 5, so this made me smile. The top of Montjuïc also houses the fancy Barcelona Communication Tower.

Then there were more tapas – sautéed mushrooms, dried chiles, patatas bravas, vegetarian paella and free olives. I must move to Barcelona at some stage because the food is pretty amazing and also pretty cheap.

It was a big day because then we crossed the city again to see the Pabellones Güell (or, Pavilllons), a park which again was full of many Gaudí delights, such as the dragon gate.

Our guide, who was about to retire to his nearby abode, then took us to the shopping strip on Avinguda Diagonal in the university district. We marvelled at the absolute cheapness of clothing presented within the stores of Mango and Zara, in comparison to the atrocious prices of these shops in Australia. We bid Diego a sad goodbye and headed home one last time. Our last night in Barcelona, as well as in Europe, was sadly spent at home, eating food cooked in our apartment kitchen.

Barcelona had surprised us. We were warned of the severity of pickpocketing on La Rambla (which we avoided). However, Barcelona appeared to be a very modern, beautiful and safe European city. We were very impressed.

Our last day was spent preparing for the long haul flight home. We caught a train to the airport, where we admired train buskers. Many questions were asked about my broken arm because apparently I would not be allowed to board the plane if I had only just had it plastered (thank goodness most of our trip was by rail). Soon we were off to Dubai, followed by Melbourne, to renew the regularity that is the life of working class Australians.

And so our trip was complete. It took me six months to complete my travel tales in this here blog. After several months of awe, post-trip brooding and French hospital invoice receiving (it does not end), the only conclusion I have is, that I want to move to Amsterdam!

And with that I will conclude for 2014. A trying year, a year of adventure and challenges, broken bones, hospital visits and sore feet. I wish you all the best for 2015, which I predict for my family and I will be even better and more full of luck than 2014. Bless.

Rome, Italy

17 Nov

Upon arrival to the grand Termini Station, we exited onto the streets of Rome to head to our nearby hotel. We dropped our bags with a sigh of relief. It was our last intercity train trip.

We decided to head out straight away to make the most of our time in the wondrous city of Rome. We headed towards the attractions by foot, and soon approached the first of many, many ruins to be encountered in Rome. The Temple of Hadrian has an imposing façade which sits over the Piazza di Pietra. It was built in 145 AD and is still standing tall.

We stopped for lunch whilst navigating the incredibly busy laneways. We shared a pizza and a vegetable risotto, the latter of which was much different to the risottos encountered here in Australia, and rather delicious.

We followed the crowd and realised we were in front of the Trevi Fountain, although it was rather difficult to come to this conclusion because the whole fountain was covered with hefty scaffolding. However, I’m not sure why we were so surprised, this far into our heavily scaffolded peak-season trip!

We trod off frowning, but not for long. We had soon approached the magnificent Pantheon, by far the most beautiful and well-preserved of all the Roman ruins. It was built sometime between 27 BC to 14 AD and then rebuilt around 126 AD. The building’s portico features several large columns, but the interior is a domed rotunda with a gaping hole in the centre of the ceiling. We visited on a sunny day, and a halo of sunlight was entering the building through the hole and gave the room a natural spotlight. The repetitive texture of sunken square panels on the ceiling along with the warm glow of sunlight entering through the ceiling gives the dome’s interior the appearance of a dawn painting.

Delighted sighs out of the way, it was time to continue on our walk. We accidentally came across another ruin, the Largo di Torre Argentina. These ruins were discovered in 1927, and are now the home to several stray cats. This is also the place that Julius Caesar was assassinated.

We then encountered the Piazza Venezia, which displays the grand Altare della Patria, a huge altar built in honour of an Italian king. The altar houses a museum, but also backs onto the ornate Basilica of St Maria. There was a great look-out point to the side of the altar and church, where we were able to get our first glimpses of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

It was time to go home to rest, as we were pretty exhausted. That night we headed out to a nearby bar and watched Costa Rica beat Italy. Alex upset many of the locals.

Our next day commenced with a visit to our favourite Italian supermarket to buy dinner in advance. We spent a long time at the supermarket, mainly waiting to buy food at the deli. We had a great time watching little old ladies argue with each other, and then later with the deli men, and then the deli men with each other. The two men at the deli were named Mario and Luigi. These factors really made our morning. We dropped off our food at the hotel and decided to get the train to the other side of the city. It was our Colosseum day.

After a cosy experience on the Roman metro, we exited at the Colosseum train station and there, in front of us, was… more scaffolding. Hidden behind the scaffolding was the incredible Colosseum. This attraction was build a little later than the Pantheon, around 70 AD. We admired the outside of the amphitheatre for some time. We had bought our tickets in advance so were able to skip the massive queue and walk right in. It is such an interesting place full of rich historical anecdotes. It was curious to imagine the horrible happenings that had once occurred there.

Across the way from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, which is a huge open space that is full of ancient ruins. It was once the hub of Rome.

Our final morning in Rome was spent in a quiet suburban area in the north-western part of the city. This area houses the MAXXI Museum, an architecture and contemporary art museum, which is designed by Zaha Hadid, Alex’s favourite architect. The museum was… interesting. We much preferred admiring the building’s architecture rather than the interior galleries.

We spent the afternoon resting at the enormous Villa Borghese gardens, which also had a nice view of Vatican City. It was lovely to get away from the hustle and bustle of a very busy city, and also to reminisce about the lovely time we spent in Italy, eating delicious dishes and admiring ancient buildings.

Florence, Italy

30 Oct

Our next stop was the beautiful city of Florence. We left the train station and walked through the rather cosmopolitan city which was full of tall and glamorous shops and delectable looking Italian bakeries. We arrived at our hotel which had an incredible location – right in front of the famed Battistero di San Giovanni (scaffolded, but of course!). We proceeded to relax for a small while, as became our norm after city-to-city train journeys. We noticed in the lobby an ancient painting of Florence, and our hotel was so old that it was actually in the painting. Pretty incredible!

When it came time to tour the city, of course, our first stop was the glorious Il Duomo cathedral, which too was directly outside our hotel. Wow. This was one of my favourite buildings on our trip. The detail of the deep green, pink and white marble is impeccable.

We noticed the Florentine city prices were hefty. After some severe lunch-hunting we eventually settled on a colourful cafe with an extensive menu featuring all the Italian delights you could imagine. I tried an authentic butter and sage ravioli, Alex a mushroom calzone. We enjoyed ourselves. We continued browsing the laneways, seeking out places to watch more World Cup action in the evenings to come.

Our dinner consisted of goods purchased from our favourite Italian supermarket, à la Venice. We had developed an affection for this specific supermarket’s salad, which consisted of orecchiette pasta, arugula, olives, tomatoes and caciocavallo cheese. Rather than buy a huge bag of plastic forks for €2, we decided to eat our salad by scooping up chunks of it with potato chips (the chips were half the price of the forks). Dinner redefined with edible utensils and savvy shopping skills.

That night we watched Brazil v Mexico at a local Irish pub. We were thrilled because this particular bar had free food. This does not happen in Australia.

The following day, Alex went inside the main cathedral without me (I was forbidden due to my thoughtless attire, although I did get a 5-second glimpse of the internal structure). On a positive note, this rejection provided me with more time to admire the outside of the cathedral.

We headed south towards the Arno river until we reached the magnificent square of La Signoria. The square features several impressive attractions. First there is the Fountain of Neptune – an imposing statue of Neptune surrounded by fancy waterworks.

Then of course there is the Palazzo Vecchio. This astonishing palace was built in the 14th century, particularly to show the world just how impressive and powerful Florence was. We entered the palace via the front doors decorated by a replica Statue of David (where the original once stood) and were overwhelmed by the detail in the front courtyard of the palace.

My favourite attraction of the Piazza della Signoria is the Loggia dei Lanzi, an arched structure filled with incredible statues – an outdoor sculpture gallery. My favourite statue is Perseus with the Head of Medusa, because, well, it’s pretty epic. It was created in the mid-1500s.

We continued our journey past the Uffizi Gallery. The last time I was in Florence I didn’t bother going because the queue was enormous and my time was limited. We decided not to go this time either because we’d checked online for tickets the night before and the website stated that they were unavailable. Out of curiosity we decided to have a look to see just how busy it was. Whaaat? There was no queue? We walked straight to the ticket booth and got in within 2 minutes. Very pleased! The gallery was just huge. The artworks featured in the gallery were varied, from severely religious ancient Italian paintings to a little more recent Dutch paintings. My tour guide, aka Alex, informed me why there were such variations of Jesus paintings. Some showed him on the crucifix happy, others sad. Some healthy, others bleeding. Very interesting. Of course, the most famous painting in the museum is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, which was extremely impressive. A very lovely painting. There were also works by other very famous painters, such as Da Vinci and Caravaggio.

We had a lovely view from the gallery of Ponte Vecchio bridge as well as the top of Palazzo Vecchio. This enticed us to have a bit of a closer look at Ponte Vecchio so we could admire the old colourful structure. (Our Ponte Vecchio day was supposed to be the next day). We crossed but dared not go further. Not until tomorrow at least.

We walked home up the shopping strip Via Santa Maria. We purchased a gelato near Il Duomo and got completely ripped off. It was a big scoop at least.

Our second World Cup match in Florence was supposed to be Australia v Netherlands. We headed back to our Irish pub, bought some large beers and took some free bar food. The match wasn’t on, even though advertised. Alex asked the bartender and we were advised that the Sky TV was down. We sculled our drinks and found another nearby pub playing the match. We had missed the first 20 minutes and Australia was winning. We’d missed the goal! Although disappointed, I wasn’t really expecting us to beat the Netherlands due to their excellent earlier performances. I cheered along with a few other Australian tourists, and avoided the Dutch tourists once the match had concluded. Obviously, we did not beat the Netherlands, although we still had lots of fun cheering whilst drinking delicious Peroni.

We were planning to perhaps do a day trip to the gorgeous Cinque Terre for our last day in Florence, however it was going to be costly and absolutely exhausting for a day trip. So we ended up having an unplanned day. This is unusual for me, but Alex thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our final touristy visit for our last glorious day in Florence was the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. We recognised the same tile work on this cathedral as Il Duomo. Very Florentine.

We continued on our walk until we reached the Central Market. The Central Market was very lovely and was full of many delectable looking gourmet Italian foods. I wanted to buy many food items to bring home, such as pesto flavoured pasta and almond nougat, but as I may have mentioned earlier, my luggage was one small backpack, therefore, there would be no bringing of food home. Very sad. On the way home we stopped at Ladurée for a macaron, seeing though we missed out when we were in Paris. Very happy with our decision.

Later in the day, it was time for a good look at Ponte Vecchio. We returned to the gorgeous jutting yellow-toned bridge, bold over the Arno river.

We continued walking on the south-side of the river until we reached the base of a hill, which we climbed to find the most magnificent view of the city. We spent a good part of early dusk awing over the wonderment of the ancient city draped in terra cotta.

Venice, Italy

25 Sep

The Night Train to Venice. Sounds pretty glamorous, or murderous, depending on the books you’ve read. For us, the night train to Venice was enduring. After a poor sleep due to the constant rocking and racket of the train, we were awoken by the steward with our fancy breakfast. By 7am we had arrived on the picturesque island of Venice via the Liberta Bridge. What a sight to wake up to.

It was a Sunday and rather humid, peculiar seeing though it was so early. We navigated our way around the maze-like laneways, finally finding our hotel after 40 minutes of luggage lugging up and down hundreds of stairways, including that belonging to the magnificent Rialto Bridge. We later discovered that the water taxi – or valporetto – was a much smarter option of transport. However, we didn’t mind, because we got to discover the beauty of the city even before we had really arrived. It was Sunday and early and so quiet and peaceful so we were able to fully embrace the scene around us. Canals, old buildings, fancy bridges. Oh yes, and a new country to experience!

We were looking forward to Italy because, well, the food, but also because we thought we could “get” the language easier as it is somewhat similar to Spanish. Of course, the hotel owner was Spanish, so no Italian for now. She was very accommodating and let us check-in early. Oh, and she had a washing machine! Machine-washed clothes for the first time on our trip. What a luxury! The hotel was quaint and our room overlooked a pretty laneway with a beautiful arch right outside our window (in fact, any window in Venice overlooks something attractive).

We needed to nap before our first big day in Venice (3 hours sleep on the night train was not very sufficient). By midday, we were recharged and ready to explore the city.

But first, lunch. We noticed the prices in Venice were rather high compared to other cities we had visited. We settled on a restaurant in the nearby square, Campo Sant’Angelo. Venice is full of lovely colourful squares. This one had a view of a very leaning tower, which we later realised Italy was full of. We shared a pizza and then continued on our way.

Coincidentally, the Venice Biennale for architecture was in full swing during our visit. The Venice Biennale is a kind of city art exhibition. Obviously, Alex was thrilled. We ventured out past the grand Piazza San Marco and the thoughtful Bridge of Sighs (where convicts walked through before their imprisonment in the adjoining prison) towards the Arsenale on the eastern side of the city, which was where some important parts of the Biennale were held. After gasping at the ridiculous admission prices, we decided to instead attend the free exhibits of the Biennale, which were spread all across Venice and consisted of art installations created by a few different countries. We viewed two exhibition spaces at this point: one containing fancy images of Moscow, and then another featuring photographs of abandoned Taiwanese buildings. Rather curious.

And then it was back to the touristy parts of the city to sit and admire. The majestic Basilica di San Marco was of course scaffolded, as seemed to be the norm throughout our trip. The square itself was just terribly charming, what with the repetitious buildings enclosing the space and the soaring Campanile overlooking us.

We continued to just walk through the gorgeous lanes for the rest of the afternoon, being completely fascinated by the design of the city and being overwhelmed by its endless beauty.

Before returning to our hotel for a rest we found a gelateria. I chose the Nocciotella ice-cream, which was a mix of hazelnut gelato and Nutella gelato. Oh. My. This was truly the best ice-cream I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, we forgot where the gelateria was and were unable to return. I do plan to perhaps attempt my own but I’m sure it just won’t be the same.

After rest number two of the day (because you know, when you’re not working, you can nap two times a day), we headed out again. It was late but still light, a factor we thoroughly enjoyed whilst holidaying in the northern parts of the world during summer. We encountered another free Biennale exhibit, this one organised by Cyprus (I’m half-Cypriot so I was excited). The space was full of layer upon layer of corrugated cardboard with huge images of buildings on them. We were given a cutter and were allowed to cut into the images to make new art. It was kind of kooky. I especially enjoyed the second room, however, where they had old photographs of Cyprus on the wall. This really piqued my interest because my grandparents are from Cyprus, and the only old photo I have seen of Cyprus is an antique photograph of my young grandmother standing outside her village shack, so I always assumed Cyprus was very poor. I was wrong. It was very industrialised back in the day. And it looked very European! I will have to go sometime.

Moving along, we also encountered the Luxembourg exhibit, which focused on modernity, and also the Montenegro exhibit, which was really quite interesting and featured photos and models of abandoned buildings.

We came across the Accademia Bridge, which gave us an incredible view overlooking the Grand Canal.

We found a supermarket and I had to hold myself back from buying the hoards of Italian delicacies that caught my eye. Instead we settled on a pasta salad to take back to eat at the hotel. Before heading back we walked through the trendy Dorsoduro district to the very tip of this part of the island, which overlooked central Venice in the distance, including Piazza San Marco and the Campanile. We rested by the water for some time before heading home for dinner.

The following day we decided to make use of the valporetto. Our first stop was another island about 45 minutes north-east of Venice called Burano (not Murano, mind you, which is another nearby island famous for its glass). Burano is famous for its absolutely gorgeous multi-coloured, bright buildings. So pretty.

We admired the streets for an hour or so before stopping for lunch. Burano was small, touristy and therefore expensive. We were able to collate sufficient funds for lunch: eggplant parmigiana for Alex and pasta for me (in Italy, pizza is always cheap, pasta is always expensive). I finally tried aglio e olio, which is a delectable garlicky and olive-oily spaghetti with a few sprinkles of dried chilli, which I’d been wanting to try forever. Yum! We also tried some Italian beer, which we quite enjoyed.

In the afternoon, we jumped back on the valporetto after admiring even more buildings. We decided that the valporetto was amazing because it took a fraction of the time than walking to get anywhere. We returned to our favourite supermarket in the southern Dorsoduro district and this time purchased eggplant parmigiana and another pasta salad to eat back at the hotel.

After dinner, I persuaded Alex to go out in the dark to the Campo Santa Margherita, which was about a 25 minute walk from our hotel, but I had heard it was a very nice and youthful district. We were so disappointed… that we waited until our last night to go there! It was really a great area, full of restaurants, bars, young people and TVs airing the World Cup. We had a beer or two, enjoyed a slice of pizza and watched a bit of the game whilst being harassed by rose-sellers. Next time we go to Venice we will have to return to this Campo during the day. It was a very laid-back and exciting square at night. The night time weather was perfect too.

Venice – what can I say. We felt safe, embraced and imbued with its perfection.

Salzburg, Austria

4 Sep

Different country, same language – we were off to Austria. Namely, the highly acclaimed city of Salzburg – birthplace of Mozart; filming location of The Sound of Music*; home to the delectably rich Sacher Torte; but ultimately, a most gorgeous city bordered by mountains and full of decorative buildings sitting atop cobblestone lanes. All this along the charming Salzach River.

We were pretty hungry due to the fact that we had developed the habit of not eating breakfast on our trip. We dropped our bags off at our hotel and walked down the picturesque streets until we reached the old town. The main attraction of the old town is the Getreidgasse, probably the most Salzburgish street you can find. All the buildings are in the old-style and marvellously maintained, with subtle guild signs all along the lane.

Also, this is the street that houses Mozart’s unassuming birthplace.

We ate at a quaint little Italian restaurant that was literally built into the base of the Mönchsberg mountain, one of many mountains that cosily borders Salzburg.

We continued on to the heart of the city and reached Residenzplatz, a lovely square which houses a stately baroque fountain.

We also found another beautiful square which has its own little fountain, belonging to St Florian.

We went a little Mozart crazy by taking photos with life-sized Mozart signs, admiring window displays of little Mozart-styled rubber duckies, finding Mozart’s statue, thoughtfully appreciating Mozart’s Geburtshaus (birth place) and purchasing Mozartkugel chocolate marzipan balls and Mozartkugel chocolate liqueur. We’re not really huge Mozart fans, but when in Salzburg…

By this stage it was time to return home to watch the World Cup, but not before traversing through the trendy Linzergasse, a lovely strip full of shops and restaurants. We agreed to return the following day for dinner. However, we had eaten dinner out almost every night on our trip, and as we had a kettle and fridge in our hotel (finally), I was intent on 2-minute noodles. We visited a nearby supermarket and to my sadness there were no 2-minute noodles to be found. However, there was cheap German chocolate aplenty (Ritter) so our shopping basket was full when we reached the check-out.

After watching a match or two and realising our dinner of champions was not a very sufficient dinner, we headed back to the Aldstadt (Old Town) to take some night time snaps and hopefully find something to eat.

We admired the beautiful lights of the city from the Makartsteg bridge on the way to the Old Town.

We made the most of the beautiful Getreidgasse without the hoards of tourists we had experienced earlier in the day. It was so quiet and peaceful.

We encountered a food van, and in typical Austrian fashion it was a hot dog van. However, the hot dog van was selling veggie burgers, and as Alex was hungry he decided to purchase one. I took a bite. Then two. Oh my. It was quite possibly the best veggie burger we have ever eaten. I think it had something to do with the pickled onion in the burger. Yum!

The following day was a very, very long day because we had to check out of the hotel at 11am as our accommodation for the night was a night train to Venice. So we tried to take it easy for the day as we had nowhere really to rest.

We headed back towards our favourite Altstadt, but on the way we paid a visit to the famed Mirabell Palace and Gardens. We spent hours there, sitting and admiring. The gardens are immaculately designed and kept, and the palace itself is grand and majestic. We admired mythological statues, colourful flowers and a wonderful view of the Salzburg fortress in the distance.

We arrived back in the old town for lunch, and specifically, we were on a mission to find the hot dog van that sold us that mouth-watering veggie burger the night before. It was not there! Saddened, we continued on our lunch journey, encountering the busy Saturday market at Universitätsplatz, which was full of local produce, but namely, many, many sausages. We settled with pretzels for lunch, one savoury and one sweet, and ate them in the hot sun whilst watching an entire life-sized chess match in Kapitelplatz, another imposing Salzburg square.

We walked through the elaborate Petersfriedhof cemetery before reaching the uphill walkway leading to the Festung Hohensalzburg, or Salzburg Fortress. The fortress provided the best views of the beautiful city.

After spending a long time admiring the city from up high, it was time for dinner. We found a cheap and delicious restaurant serving healthy curry and we couldn’t leave Salzburg without trying their famous Sacher Torte, so we ordered one at our hotel (our luggage was still there). It was very decadent.

Our night train to Venice was to leave at 1.30am so we had a few hours to spare. Lucky for us, Costa Rica’s first World Cup game was airing at a bar near the train station. We enjoyed several rather tall Austrian beers in an authentic smoky pub and enjoyed every minute of it, especially CR’s unlikely win against Uruguay.

*We still haven’t watched The Sound of Music.

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