Location: Chiesa di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy
This kitty was napping at the little garden of a church. It ignored me all the time I mew-ed to it.
(Caterpillar is the actual name of a cat.)
[Every Friday is Food Friday here at YQ travelling. Let’s feast.]
Last week, we had a taste of food in Florence in the Glutton eats with Florence Food Tour.
Today, I want to show you the other food I ate while in Italy. Before I went to Italy, the only Italian food I know of was pasta, pizza and Italian-named coffees. I never ate much gelato back home because it’s always more expensive than ice creams.
Italians don’t seem to drink bad coffee–the coffee at the breakfast buffet of my mid-priced hotel in Pisa was rather good and even the cappucino served at IKEA (famous for its burnt coffee) was excellent.
While in Florence, I had a favorite coffee shop right at the Palazza Duomo. The place serves good coffee and has a view of one of the walls of the very beautiful Duomo.
In Italy, coffee is usually drank at the bar. It seems to me that only tourists sit at tables, and are charged more for it.
I have to confess. I cannot actually tell the difference between gelatos of different shops. Apart from the flavors, they all taste the same to me: milky and cold.
I did have an extra nice pistachio-flavored gelato while in Rome. It really tasted of green pistachios.
Strawberries were in season when I was in Italy. For my first two nights, I ate only strawberries for dinner because I was too tired of going out and deciphering menus.
Pizza used to be my favorite western dish back when I was growing up. We only had Pizza Hut but I loved it anyway.
I had the most amazing pizzas when I was in Rome. I was walking around the neighborhood of my AirBnb place, trying to look for the restaurant recommended by the houseowner. I didn’t find the restaurant but I found a pizzeria.
Pizza there sold by weight, not slice as I was used to. On the first day, I ordered a small slice. But the next day, I ordered double the volume because it was just too tasty.
I spent 5 night in Florence, making it the city I spend the most time in. The Chinese hostel owner brought me to the streets on the day I arrived, even before I put my bags in the hostel, and showed me a Florence street food.
The lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach of a cow. It’s cooked in a sauce and served either on its own or squished between a hard bun.
The taste was alright but I always appreciate entrails (even though my cholesterol is on the higher side). The bread that came along was a tougher challenge and made me feel like a cow that have grazed too long and hurt my jaw.
At the Tuesday Market, there were food trucks selling lampredotto and porchetta. How do you know if the truck sells porchetta? It’s easy. They have a whole roasted pig on display.
The porchetta sandwich I ate had a hard bread. The meat wasn’t moist so it felt like I was gnawing through tough cardboard.
I had this special dish in Florence one rainy evening. It’s less of a steak and more of a great slab of meat cooked crispy on the outside and bloody in the inside.
Even though I was feeling melancholic during that meal, I must say that the meat meat tasted great. However I wasn’t able to finish my 700gm slab of steak so I took it back to my hostel where the hostel mates polished it off.
That’s what I call team work!
This is a rather odd entry in my Italian food list. Since I was staying in a Chinese-run hostel, I had the chance to have dinner there for an extra 5 euro.
One night, the owner served Chinese dumpling but it had a strange filling. There didn’t seem to be any meat and had glass noodles and cabbage instead.
[Disclosure: I received a complimentary segway tour thanks to Italy Segway Tour but the post is all honest words by me.]
Just one week ago, I had two amazing events happen in my life on the same day.
In the morning, I saw the pope (quite far away, but we were within 1km radius of each other).
In the afternoon, I went on a segway tour with Italy Segway Tour’s tour of imperial Rome.
I found the office easily and all the tour mates arrived on time too. My tour mates include 2 couples from Sweden and a couple from the USA.
Our tour leader was Roberto who was very hyper. He suited us up in our radio listening thingamajig and our helmets. We were told to lead our electrical horses (the segway, by the way) to a small square nearby.
There was plenty of training before we started the tour. I didn’t quite understand how to work the segway in the beginning but after a few turns, I found my own way of controlling my steed.
Here is a list of places we visited (copied from the website because I couldn’t take notes on the segway):
Circus Maximus, Arch of Constantine, Roman Forum, Colosseum, Traian Column, Capitoline Hill, Santa Maria’s Church and its Bocca della Verità wall sculpture, Marcello Theatre and a breathtaking panoramic view over Rome.
Luckily for us, one of the main roads was closed off that day and we could segway around (is that even a proper verb?) without much fear.
Since Robert was wearing the high-tech tour guide voice transfer machine (I really don’t know the name), we could hear every word he said. That is, if you are not too busy balancing yourself/ feeling awesome about being on a segway.
Some of the sights we saw along the way include:
The first time I put my hand in a Mouth of Truth was back home in Sabah. Some company made machine copies of this and would tell your fortune.
The segway’s really good for getting panoramic views of the city. We could just roll up a slope, listen to the history behind the sights, snap a few photos and head off to the next sight.
Other benefits are:
The price of the 3 hour tour is 90 euro per person. By the way, there are a lot of discount codes for the segway tour on its webpage so do check it out.
Besides the morning segway tour, there is also a night segway tour which I think will be super amazing.
My tour with Italy Segway Tour was great because Robert took the time to give us training (very important to not run into pedestrians or cars) and was attentive to our safety during the trip.
[Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour with Florence Food Tour thanks to Italy Segway Tour. All opinions in this post are my own.]
If you’ve been following my blog for a while (before my RTW), you will know that I love to eat. I even have a series called the Glutton Series where I recap the best food I had in different countries.
The location of the office is rather hard to find, especially when you rely on Google Maps. It’s not at the junction as labelled on Google Maps, but it’s a lot further inside Via dei Cimatori. So do take note.
My tour was led by Angelina and there were two couples in the group. The younger couple were from San Diego while the older couple were from Holland.
Our first stop was a cafe, a perfect place to start since I needed some battery to power through the morning.
Chiaroscuro looked like a regular coffee bar from outside but there are actually seats inside. One very good thing about this cafe is that the Wi-Fi is free and not protected by password. I give this perk an extra 20 points.
But we weren’t at Chiaroscuro to use the internet, let me get on with the tour.
The owner showed us two types of coffee beans–Arabica and Robusta–and also coffees made from the different beans. I think I prefer the mellower Arabica since Robusta was too powerful.
Trivia time! Do you know why Italy is famous for coffee even though other countries (Holland, USA) imported the beans earlier? The owner said it was because the Italians learned how to roast coffee beans well and invented the espresso machines.
Next stop was all about truffles. The staff of Procacci Company was still getting ready when we arrived so we hung around outside for a little while.
When we were in, we each sampled a small bread with black truffle and soft cheese.
There was also a large coffee book about truffles which Angela passed around.
Trivia time! Did you know that the truffle pickers used pigs to sniff for truffles since way way back when everyone in the picture dressed like peasants? Now certain types of dogs are trained to pick truffles because the pigs would eat up the truffles too often.
We then headed to La Divina Enoteca near the central market to try out some local wines alongside some nibbles.
The shop itself deserves an introduction. Back in the end of the 19th century, the shop sold cod fish and kept the fish in white marble tanks. The tanks are still intact in the shop and now hold yummies such as jams.
For our wine tasting, we had a red and a white wine. Being a wine noob, I’ll tell you all about the tidbits that went with the wine.
With the white wine, we ate the bread decorated with a lace of salty Tuscan ham and Tuscan cheese made from sheep milk called Pecorino.
One of the cheese had a dab of jam, which was oddly matching since the sour/sweet of the jam blends with the cheese.
Our Central Market stop was packed with good eats and was a living museum.
There, we had a taste of Florence’s bread which, to my untrained palate, is a bit less tasty than French baguette (maybe because they don’t use salt).
We had a view of the butcher’s fridge which had stuff like cow’s stomach, etc. Of course all these bloody entrails did not surprise me since Chinese meals do make use of them. (And it’s yummy.)
At the market, we had a sit down quick meal of fresh pasta with ragu at Nerbone.
The pasta was flat and wide and was curly. The ragu wasn’t dripping off my noodles the way I like it but it was very flavorful with the dash of olive oil.
By the time we’ve finished our pasta, our stomach level was approaching 90 percent but we still had two stops to go.
In the market, we stopped at Marconcini for olive oil, balsamic vinegar, ham and Vin Santo with cantuccini.
Living in Singapore and Malaysia, the olive oil that I eat usually is slightly rancid because of the time it took to ship and sell the oils as well as the tropical weather.
However, there at Marconcini, I tasted an olive oil (drizzled on bread) that had a “green” flavor.
I wasn’t a big fan of balsamic vinegar so I don’t have much to comment. However, it was surprising to find that the balsamic vinegar sold there was so thick it looked like thick soy sauce.
The last bite at Marconcini was the vin santo with cantuccini. We were told to dab our almond biscuit into the sweet, alcoholic liquor and it was a very delightful combination. (I totally get Orea and milk but biscuit and wine is a different thing to process in my brain.)
Our last stop was a gelato place called Antica Gelateria Florentina where they served interesting flavors including matcha.
The price here is cheaper than most places with the least expensive costing 1.50 euro. I think this means they are honest people and not out to fleece tourists.
I had two of the special flavors: one was called Buontalenti (the name of the person who supposedly invented gelato) and Ambrosia.
I have to admit that my tongue and stomach were not trained for gelato so most taste the same to me.
The price of the tour is 59 euro, which is about 17 euro cheaper than one competitor–based on my Googling skill.
The quality, quantity of the food and the variety that you can taste makes up for the price. Plus, you won’t need to eat lunch afterwards so you save on a meal.
[I am writing this on my iPhone. This morning my water bottle spilled in my bag and the computer was affected too. I’m leaving it to dry until tomorrow morning, may the gods of Greece bless the machine.]
Location: Rome, Italy
Location: Athens, Greece
This morning, the AirBnb hostess offered to drop me off at the metro since she was driving her mother to work as well.
That meant I had 15 minutes less to pack my things which were (typical of me) strewn everywhere.
Fortunately, I did manage to pack everything, even taking into account what I should leave in my checkin bag (US$20).
(Later the hostess e-mailed to say that I forgot a dress in my cabinet. That’s not too big a deal.)
I had breakfast at the train station at one of the coffee station. As usual, it was a standing café bar and everything was consumed quickly.
While I walked to the express train platform, I realozed that the bottom of my hand carry felt wet. To my horror, the cap of my bottle was open.
Taking most of the things out, I realized that the effect wasn’t too bad. The cardigan which I stuffed in to mop up the water was damp but not dripping wet.
As for my netbook, it’s battery side had some water but everything else looked OK. To be safe, I decided to wait a long while before switching it on.
On the train, I spent some time trying to figure out how to open the table so I could charge my iPhone.
I pushed, pulled, banged and knocked. On the end, I realized that I needed to push the panel up, not inwards.
The express train to the airport was fast. In 30 minutes time, we reached the airport.
At the easyJet terminal, I was told that my flight had been rescheduled from 12:40 to 15:00. Oh well, we have to embrace things out of our control.
The queue for easyJet’s checkin was horrible. It took me an hour or so to get my baggage in.
I witnessed two old ladies (one with a Canadian passport, the other Italian) jumped queue like a boss. Just unabashedly push pass others (especially if they are German or Asian).
The wait for the plane was slow. I ate expensive airport food, drank a cappucino, tried to turn on my computer to pass time.
Finally, it was time to board. The shuttle that was taking us to the plane didn’t leave even though it was fill until the other bus came to pick the rest of us up.
EasyJet had a nice plane. Their inflight magazine was hip with articles about music festivals.
Even their inflight meals were co. They serve Starbucks instant coffee and sparkling wine–all at higher price than on land.
I snoozed on the plane with my mouth open. All these days of sightseeing was taking a toll on me, I’ll take things slower in Athens.
We landed in Athens airport a little after an hour and a half.
The signs to the Metro station were clear but when I got there, I found a sign about train stations with so much greek alphabets that my jaw dropped.
I did figure out my train and got to my hotel safely.
At the hotel, a bubbly receptionist greeted me. It was Helen who wad from the Philippines.
When I asked where to go for dinner, she asked me to join her pizza dinner with another hotel guest.
The other guest, Scott, was from Australia and had a big beard with long hair. He was into heavy metal and just came from a heavy metal cruise where people drank a lot of beer.
He also planned to travel for four months, focusing on Europe. I didn’t share my four-month career break because it felt odd blurting it to a stranger.
Now I am in my room. My airconditioner makes noises that sound like the motor of a noisy fishing boat. I’ll take it as a lullaby.
Location: Rome, Italy
I had quite enough of museums and art galleries after my three full museum days in Florence so I decided to focus only on one museum in Rome–the Vatican Museum.
I read somewhere online that if you want to skip the queue at the Vatican Museum, it’s best to go after lunch time when the tour groups are out to eat.
I decided to follow that advice so my morning was pretty free.
While I was on the underground heading to nowhere in Rome, I spotted a rather interesting attraction on my mobile travel guide app.
The Capuchin Crypt has skeletons and skulls used as decoration and the whole thing fascinated me.
Luckily, my train was just nearby the train station so got off I made the stop at Bernini.
Looking at the facade of the church, you can’t tell that inside it hides a hauntingly beautiful corridor of bones.
There was an entrance fee of 7 euro to the museum and the crypt.
The museum is small but had interesting information on the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Actually, I was most excited to learn that the Capuchin friars live like a hermit (and also hel people along the way) since The Hermit is one of the cards in tarot.
The museum section is small and at the end is the crypt with its decorative skeletons and skulls.
Unlike the Paris catacombs, the crypt was small. It’s more like a 20-meter long corridor where one side is a wall and the other side with small rooms that do not have a wall.
Even though the photos of the crypt make it seem like a huge place, the rooms are rather small, each about 2 meters wide and 3 meters long.
in the small “rooms”, the bones are decorated in themes. The themes are:
Almost every empty space on the ceiling was decorated with bones. One had a skull framed by pelvis bones on its two sides, making it look like a rather scary butterfly.
At first, it was a little scary walking into the corridor with skulls grinning at me. Then I asked myself, “What is it that is scary?”
I concluded that these were just brown bones of humans so there is nothing to be afraid of. It was then that I started to admire the arrangements as art.
Aptly, in the first room, there was a sign in multiple languages. I copied the English version here:
WHAT YOU ARE NOW WE USED TO BE; WHAT WE ARE NOW YOU WILL BE
Yes, one day we will become bones, or ashes if you are cremated. Until then, we’ll need to live life to as best as we can.
Halfway during the walk, I realized that I was face to face with another Tarot card: Death. Later in the day I would meet “Judgement” in the form of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.
I have to admit something. I did not do any “homework” for my days in Rome and I rely on my mobile apps to do all my planning.
That was why I ended up in the Vatican City on a Sunday. Not a good move.
I thought that since the Vatican Museum is closed on Sundays, St Peter’s Basiilca would be free of crowds.
What I didn’t realize was that the queue into St Peter’s was short because about every other person was already inside listening to the pope’s mass.
[I found out just now that today was a special day in which the pope announced new saints. No wonder there was so many people.]
The square was packed with people but there was still some standing room. I stood with the crowd, peering far ahead to try and make out which rice-sized figure was the pope.
I gave up looking for the pope and settle with the big screen broadcast instead.
During the ceremony, the pope seemed to shake a lot of clergypeople’s hands. He also read from a big book and wore a large hat.
The fancy hat was ta ken off and exchanged for a smart white cap when the pope came down from his pedestal and into the pope-mobile.
The pope waved a lot at the crowd, kissed a lot of babies and later kissed a lot of people with disabilities. I teared up a little at the last part.
The pope-mobile never came to my part of the square. The people around me chanted “Fran-cesco, Fran-cesco”, hoping Papa would hear and ask his driver to steer the pope-mobile to us.
When the pope-mobile was near, almost everyone (including me) cheered.
It was like cheering for a rock star but one with a heaven lot more fans.
Location: Florence, Italy
Location: Rome, Italy
After five nights, I have finally left Florence. I still feel like I do not know the city very well.
Even on the last morning, I got lost among the cobbled street and couldn’t decipher my map. I didn’t manage to visit the central market to have a bowl of Florentine soup.
I did get a small baguette with smoked ham. The friendly Taiwanese couple shared their spaghetti carbonara as well as a tub of panna cotta with me. Yums.
I arrived that the train station 20 minutes before my scheduled departure.
To my horror, my platform number wasn’t available. I panicked a little and imagined that my train was cancelled and I would be stuck in Florence with no backup plan.
Of course, my reasonable side told me to shut up and wait for the train. The platform did show up in the end, 10 minutes before the departure.
My second-class premium seat had leathery seats and a free drink for the passenger. The overhead area for luggage was slightly bigger than the standard space so that was a nice touch.
Once in Rome, I followed the directions written by my AirBnb host and took the underground. I then used Google Maps to find my way to the house. Unfortunately, Maps brought me to the wrong side of the road and I treked past about 50 houses before I reached my destination.
My accommodation in Rome–slightly outside of Rome is probably a more accurate description–is with an AirBnB host family. I am staying in the attic. I don’t have any good photos of the room yet but I’ll put them up when I have them tomorrow.
It’s a really cute room with two beds, two sofas, a small table, fridge (!), kettle with tea bags and rather weak lighting (or “romantic lighting”).
I remembered that I once wished to live in an attic and now I really am so that’s one thing off my to-do list.
Since IKEA was nearby, I stopped there for a look before heading back to Rome for sightseeing.
To my delight, the IKEA here has 2 cafes! It’s so Italian to have cafe even though there is the regular section for cafeteria-like food.
I had a cappuccino and a biscuit for 1.70 euro. The coffee tasted fine (this is not the cafe for regular IKEA coffee) and the biscuit was the same as any Marks & Spenser biscuit.
Next stop was Rome proper. I only managed to see the Colosseum because the name of the station is the same as the site. It wasn’t as gigantic as I was led to believe but I sat down a while to stare at it and found that it was quite large.
Dinner was pizza from a pizzeria near where I’m staying. The pizza was charged based on weight. The whole thing was so yummy I should have bought more.
Location: Florence, Italy
I was a little depressed at dinner today. I felt like weeping but I told myself that I am in Florence and I damn well should not cry.
I suppose it was a mix of the cold rainy weather and my hormones. But mostly it was the gigantic piece of beef steak that caused me to feel sad.
I could not finish my 700gm beef steak. Unlike David who defeated Goliath, I was crushed by a (roughly 350gm) piece of uneaten meat.
The Bistecca alla fiorentina (beefsteak Florentine style) is a famous dish in Florence. The meat is grilled on wood and served rather rare.
I knew I had to try the dish before I leave Florence tomorrow. I headed to one of the restaurants where I previously had lunch. It was still too early for dinner so I was one of the few customers.
The restaurant waiter told me that the smallest serving for bistecca alla fiorentina was 700gm. I decided to go ahead even though they have a set meal with 550gm steak and a few sides.
The meat that arrived was gigantic. The only company to the meat was one piece of purple lettuce and a wedge of lemon.
I knew I couldn’t finish the whole serving but I took the advice of how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time). I squeezed some lemon juice on the whole slab of meat and started with my first bite.
The skin had a nice burnt salty crispy taste while the meat was tender. Further away from the sides, the meat became rarer and rarer, pinker and pinker.
The dish was quite good since the meat was tender. However, by the time I finished half of it, my body told me to stop or everything else might come back up.
So I stared at the steak for a while. I wasn’t sure if asking for a doggie bag was polite in Italy. I didn’t want the dish to go to waste neither and started plotting ways I could take the piece back.
As I plotted, I felt depressed. The meat that was about a two-hundredth of my weight taunted me, “You call yourself a glutton?”
In the end the waiter was very understanding and helped me get a takeaway box.
I walked in the rain back to the dorm with the steak. In the end, the others in the dorm helped me conquer the slab of meat. That’s where you’re going Mr Meat!
Today’s summary: Natural Museum, Pitti Palace’s various museum, lunch + gelato, Basilica of the Holy Cross, Palazzo Vecchio.
Location: Florence, Italy
Today was the day for my Florence Food Tour, something I’ve been waiting excitedly for. Taking Google Map’s direction advice, I took the C3 bus, hoping to drop near the office.
The bus that came was very crowded. I stuffed myself in the front but more people came on. I was stuck between the legs of one lady and the arm of an older lady, (Lady! Why do you need to hold on to the handle when you are already sitting? Why?!)
As the bus turned, I balanced myself on my feet, afraid that I might crush the brittle arm of the old lady. I decided to get off at the next stop because the old lady seemed to be quite pissed with my bum being on her arm.
The next bus that came was rather empty but I still missed my stop. I hopped off at the next stop and started walking to the office with Google Map’s help.
The problem with Google Map was that it listed the office at the other end of the street. It took me a while before I actually reached the correct spot.
Our guide was Angela, a Sicilian. The other tour members were a young Iranian couple from the US and an older couple from Holland.
I’ll give you a quick summary of what we have, the full post will come next Friday. [Disclosure: Italy Segway Tour which operates the food tour gave me a complimentary tour in exchange for a blog post.]
Our stop included coffee, wine, truffles, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bread, pasta and gelato. Everyone on the tour was stuffed to the brim before our last gelato stop. Of course we still managed to wolf down our gelato since desserts are processed in our other stomach.
Halfway through the tour, my digital camera suddenly grew a wound-like slash in its lens. Every photo came out with a blotch. I thought this was the end of my camera but luckily it went back to normal later in the day.
I did a whirldwind tour of the Medici chapel and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi with my Firenze Card. The chapel’s fresco were really impressive but we couldn’t take photos so it wasn’t that exciting.
Next stop was Michelangelo’s David. When I got to the Accademia Gallery, there were two lines for those with reserved tickets. (Firenze Card holders count as reserved ticket folks.) Instead of queuing at the second line, I visited the Archaeological Museum to pass time.
The museum had a rather impressive collection of mummies. The mummies didn’t look very appetizing and made me worry about the day when they would arise from the dead.
After about an hour of the museum, I headed back to see David. The line was much shorter and I got in quite soon.
The marble statue of David is rather impressive. It is really tall (14 feet plus the pedestal) and carved very finely.
Since we could not take photos of David (many people still do), I drew a few sketches for you. Of course I wasn’t born a drawing genius, nor was I trained in drawing, so just be happy about what you see here and don’t complain too much please.
In case you are wondering, the second photo is David’s bum, not a picture of the Elephant Man.
I listened to Rick Steve’s audio tour for the Accademia and David. It’s good enough if you (like me), do not want to spend money on the official audio guides.
After looking at the rest of David’s companions in the Accademia, I headed back to the square to my favorite cafe for a cappucino and tiramisu.
It was about 6:00pm when I was done with my cake. I looked at my map and realized that I need to check off a lot more places today with my Firenze Card so I have more time tomorrow.
I had the crazy idea to climb the bell tower of the Santa Maria delle Fiore church. It was 414 steps, divided into five or so spiralling staircases. I was very out of breath by the time I reached the top.
The view was very nice from the top but I didn’t think it was worth 414 steps. If the Firenze Card didn’t cover this site and I’ve paid cold hard cash, I think I would have found all the stair climbing a refreshing exercise.
The sky was still light by the time I walked back at about 7:30pm. I dropped in the restaurant next to my hostel and ate a humungous plate of seafood pasta.
That was all for the day. If you haven’t added me on Twitter, please add @yqtravelling. I usually spam that account since it’s less intrusive compared to spamming Facebook or the blog.