Glutton in Italy

Italian coffee and pastry (cornetto)

[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.

Italian coffees

Italian breakfast of cappucino and cornetto
Italian breakfast of cappucino and cornetto

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.

IKEA Italy's coffee bar. How awesome is that?
IKEA Italy’s coffee bar. How awesome is that?

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.

Gelato

Pistachio and vanilla gelato
Pistachio and vanilla gelato

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

Strawberries do not taste of straw
Strawberries do not taste of straw

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

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.

Tasty mushroom pizza and salami pizza
Tasty mushroom pizza and salami pizza

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.

Special dishes in Florence

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.

Lampredotto

Lampredotto
Lampredotto

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.

Porchetta sandwich

Porchetta at Florence's Tuesday Market
Porchetta at Florence’s Tuesday Market

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.

Florentine steak

Florentine steak
Florentine steak

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!

Odd one out: Chinese dumplings

Chinese dumplings at Chinese-run hostel
Chinese dumplings at Chinese-run hostel

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.

Sightseeing on wheels: Segway touring in Rome

segway tour

[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.

Posing in front of Italy Segway Tour's Rome office
Posing in front of Italy Segway Tour’s Rome office

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.

Off we go!

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.

I just realized that I do not have the consent of my tour mates to put this up. Thank goodness no one lied to their boss that they're sick.
I just realized that I do not have the consent of my tour mates to put this up. Thank goodness no one lied to their boss that they’re sick.

Some of the sights we saw along the way include:

Road to Capitoline Hill
Road to Capitoline Hill
Part of the panoramic view of Rome
Part of the panoramic view of Rome

Circus Maximus

Mouth of truth
Mouth of truth

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.

There's a secret behind this gate's keyhole
There’s a secret behind this gate’s keyhole
Parts of the Roman Forum ruins
Parts of the Roman Forum ruins

Benefits of a segway tour

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:

  • You see more with less time (Probably the equivalent of 3 walking tours–6 hours–crammed into one tour.)
  • You walk less (Quite priceless if you’ve been checking out too many museums.)
  • You get to use the segway (Awesome!)
  • You will be photographed by curious people (Perfect for camwhores.)
  • You will be photographed by tour leader (No need for selfies.)

More information about Rome Segway Tour

Robert, our tour leader from Italy Segway Tour
Robert, our tour leader from Italy Segway Tour

The tour I joined was with Italy Segway Tour (who also organized the Florence Food Tour). The office is really easy to find if you have Google Maps.

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.

Have you been on a segway tour?

Greece day 1: Delayed plane to Athens [YQrtw Day 37 May 14]

Table on the Leonardo Express

[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.

20130514-215611.jpg

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.

Italy day 10: Seeing the Capuchin crypt [YQrtw Day 36 May 13]

yq in rome

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:

  1. Crypt of the Three Skeletons
  2. Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones
  3. Crypt of the Pelves
  4. Crypt of the Skulls
  5. Mass Chapel (no bones here)
  6. Crypt of the Resurrection.

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.

Walking pass bones and skeletons

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.

Italy day 9: The day I saw the pope [YQrtw Day 35 May 12]

Waving for the pope

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.

Uh oh.

[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.

Watching the pope on the big screen
Watching the pope on the big screen

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.

Crowd cheers for the pope
Crowd cheers for the pope

Italy day 8: From Florence to Rome [YQrtw Day 34 May 11]

Colosseum in the sunset

Location: Florence, Italy
Location: Rome, Italy

Colosseum in the sunset
Colosseum in the sunset

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.

Florence train station
Florence train station

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.

3 nights in the attic

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.

IKEA Italy’s little surprise

IKEA Italy's cafe
IKEA Italy’s cafe

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.