On to the plate

Experimenting with flavours, colours and style of food served at our place


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Rome – you moved me to tears (Day 1)

After a bit of uncertainty at the Roma Termi station we finally started to see signs directing us to the Taxi rank.

There are these little tents that go for as far as the eye can see. They look so pretty at night all lit up.

There are these little tents that go for as far as the eye can see. They look so pretty at night all lit up.

What I had completely forgotten was the research I had done about getting a taxi in Rome. I had forgotten that they have unofficial taxis, those that will fleece you for more than you should be paying. So what taxi did we get into?  One that did not have the official taxi markings. It wasn’t until we were on our way that I began to look around the inside of the taxi for signs that we had got the right type of taxi.

The taxi we got into was the first one in the rank. In NZ, or at least in Christchurch, you’re expected to take the first taxi in the line. I won’t take the first in line if it’s not Blue Star or Goldband taxi, but at home I know who is who, and work only uses either of those two companies, and so I’ve just adopted the same for whenever I need to get a taxi from the airport (which is almost only ever for business travel).

The driver asked where we needed to go. I showed him the address from my phone and he said that was fine. I put our luggage in the boot and then he said “lady the other side”. I’m not sure why this was requested, but I was behind his seat and had no view of what was on the metre until we stopped and he said how much to pay. At this stage I knew we’d been taken for a ride, literally.

The other thing was he explained there was a protest going on in the city and certain roads were closed. I guess we took the long way to get where we needed. It was only 3.5km from the train station but it took a long time to get there. We put that down to him needing to travel a different route due to the protests.

I had my phone out and I could see where we were going, and I was relieved when we were finally going in the right direction. Then he said he couldn’t take us up the street to our hotel because of the road closures, he would drop us at the bottom of the street and it would take us 5 minutes to walk up.

The street was a one way street, the traffic coming toward us. The street and footpath were all the same, square chunky cobble stones with some having quite large gaps all around. It was really hard work trying to pull suitcases behind us. The heat was amazing. It was so very hot. The cars were parked on one side parallel to the street. Our street backed onto the perimeter of Circo Massimo (the original city of Rome) so there were no houses or buildings on that side. The other side had all angled parking. There was barely enough room for one person to walk in the gap left between the buildings and the cars parked, so I was walking up the actual street part stopping here and there when a stream of cars were hurtling toward us. Honestly, they drive so fast in Italy.

I no longer remember where this is, or what it is of.

I no longer remember where this is, or what it is of.

Luca must have been looking for us out the window as he meet us at the door before I had a chance to get his contact details off my phone. Luca lead the way taking Mr Fussy’s suitcase from him and striding up the flight of stairs. Mr Fussy took my suitcase and I was pretty much having to run after them they were going at such a pace. And that’s with 20+kg weight.

The apartment was really lovely. The aircon was on and it was a big space for the bedroom. The kitchen, while dull, was a good size and had everything we needed.

The first time we did (after connecting to Wi-Fi and setting up all our chargers) is get a load of washing on. While the washing was going I was trying to figure out how to book a taxi to get us to the airport, and also the next morning to the meet up point for our Tuscany tour. I’ve got to say it almost was my undoing. It seemed to be so incredibly hard to book a taxi online. The address you want to be picked up from is written first as the street, and second as the house/apartment number. One site took what I had written and said there were several matches. The matches were listed by Municipality, but I didn’t know what Municipal we were in. Trying to find out what Municipal we were in was also proving to be too hard, even Google maps wasn’t showing it.

Feeling like I’d wasted so much time already we decided that we’d go for a wander up the street to see how long it took us to walk to the meet up point for the following morning, and hope that along the way we’d see a supermarket. I was starting to doubt my research skills because I couldn’t for the life of me find on Google maps where the supermarket was. I even tried to find out what the locals called a supermarket in case I was using the wrong word.

The plan was to go off to the meet up point and understand how long it would take in case I couldn’t get a taxi organised, then head off to where the Segway Tour was to leave from and then mill about there until it was time.

During the (expensive) taxi drive we passed a lot of historical places. I couldn’t really take it all in. I didn’t know how to process it. And I can’t really explain how I was feeling. All through Europe the size of the Basilica or church or piazza has been impressive in size. But in Rome everything was so much bigger. And you could tell the buildings/ruins were older. I just kept saying to Mr Fussy “wow”. It didn’t matter which direction I looked, there was always something there. In some ways it was a hodge podge. There would be some individual column, or group of columns just jutting out of the dirt with other buildings worked around them.

Such a grand statement. So old.

Such a grand statement. So old.

Because our accommodation was on the perimeter of Circo Massimo our walk lead us by the ruins. I really was in awe of the history that I was so close to. We walked up the hill, Capitol Hill and at this time we saw the “To the unnamed Solider”. I mentioned to Mr Fussy that photos would not do it justice. You can’t gauge the size of a monument or building from a photo. Some of these were monstrous. The atmosphere also has a part to play in the over impression you get of a place. You can’t capture that with a photo alone.

By the time we walked up the main street (which we didn’t realise it was) we had passed a supermarket and made note of where it was so we could pop in there on our way back down the hill.

It was easy enough to find the meet up point and it had taken us at most 45 minutes with a few stops and dancing around people in the streets. We decided to stop and sit on the stairs for a few minutes. It was at this point that I felt so overwhelmed that my eyes filled with tears. Even writing this sentence I can feel tears welling up just with the memory. I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was overtired, frustrated (with trying to book a taxi), annoyed (with being duped by the taxi) or maybe it was just being among so much history and realising just how tiny and small and naive you feel living in New Zealand.

Having now composed myself we set off back down the hill. We got what we needed from the supermarket and dropped out stuff off at the apartment. I had another crack at signing up for the taxi service (a different one) and finally made a booking for the next day. I booked it early enough that if it didn’t work we still had time to walk to the meeting point.

Mr Fussy and Massismo our Segway tour guide.

Mr Fussy and Massismo our Segway tour guide.

Now we set off in the other direction to suss out where the Segway tour started from. Their map differed to what Google Maps showed as the address location. We wanted to allow plenty of time to get lost and find our bearings. Rather than use the path that Google maps had for their actual address, we decided to find where they had pinned on their map. We did find it and we didn’t find them there. Next we walked to where Google maps had their address and thankfully they were easy to spot. Now sorted with where we had to be we took a wander around the area. The weather was looking a grey and there had been warnings of thunder (yet again!) so having had our daily gelato we looked around for a place to take shelter if we needed to. We found another Basilica and sat on the stairs just chatting away. A man and two women arrived. The women went inside and we got to chatting with the man. He asked how long it had taken us to find the Basilica. We said we had just stumbled upon it. They however had been walking around for 2 hours trying to find it, they were from Hamilton, Ontario and had only arrived off the plane at 1pm. They were doing well to be on the go already. We guessed they were Canadian. He had the Maple leave on his cap, but he thought it was his pin that had given him way. Next thing he was scooting two Canadian pins along the step to us.

We were well and truly too early for our Segway tour so we pottered about for a while and then with my feet giving me some more grief we thought we’d drop into the Segway office and discus with them the refund that we thought we were due. When we originally booked the tour the price was one price. Then I needed to change the date because the Tuscany tour date clashed, and I hadn’t realised I had double booked us. When they changed the date they confirmed the price was less and showed a refund on the new confirmation, but they never said how they would process the refund.

We got to chatting with the co-owner and then I said I had a question, but with the accent and the co-owner interpreting English to Italian he answered a question we hadn’t answered and he wandered off to chat with the bloke who was repairing one of the Segways.

After a little bit of waiting we realised that we were the only people on the tour. I hadn’t realised the booking was just for us, but now it made sense how come I was allowed to set the start time. And since the tour was only with us I was happy to pay the original price, I wasn’t going to mention any refund due.

The Coliseum at night.

The Coliseum at night.

Massimo was our tour guide. First of all we had to prove would could control the Segway. Mr Fussy had a little practice while we were waiting. These Segways were a bit different to the ones we’d used in Queenstown. When it came time to get moving forward I found that it was much easier to control every movement, and there was a very tight turning circle too. That didn’t mean that I was hurtling off. I was still concentrating very hard. Besides that, even at 8:30pm, there were still a lot of people on the streets.

Massimo checked what sights we had already seen so that he wasn’t taking us to some place we had already experienced. We hadn’t done anything at all so that left things wide open. We were tootling up the street to one of the gardens, one with a good view across Rome, we were going 15km/hr uphill. It felt great. However, my idea of resting my feet wasn’t well thought out. Instead of walking, I would be on them full-time. Each time we reached a destination and got off for a better view, or to take photos was a welcomed break. I actually found relief in walking about. When we were travelling I would awkwardly lift a foot to put the pressure elsewhere but it was really uncomfortable. I think too because I was concentrating so hard I wasn’t relaxed and maybe I was trying to plant my feet a bit too solidly.

We learnt all sorts of interesting bits and pieces and while the light was still good we got some photos in. Massimo took us all over the place but I lost my bearings since I was totally focused on what was ahead of me and not comfortable enough to be travelling forward and looking all around me. Mr Fussy on the other hand was taking video while we were moving.

I don't think you can spot one of the cats but there were a lot of cats sauntering around.

I don’t think you can spot one of the cats but there were a lot of cats sauntering around.

We arrived at the place Julius Cesar was murdered and learnt that with it being a sacred place nothing can be touched, but it has now become the place where cats hang out, and they are feed daily. One of the other things vivid in my mind was the smell of a BBQ as we rounded the corner.

I love Italian food and even while in Paris we often had Italian food, but after two weeks of it I was in need of something more than great pasta and silky sauces and the smell of that BBQ had me looking around hoping I could remember where it came from for another night (I didn’t remember unfortunately).

Even Massimo knew my feet were giving me grief and each time we hopped off the Segway he made mention of it. But those short breaks were very welcome and gave me just a little bit of relief.

We were warned not to bother eating at places that line Piazzas. Not great food and you wont find locals eating there.

We were warned not to bother eating at places that line Piazzas. Not great food and you wont find locals eating there.

We arrived at another Piazza, one that turns into a Market during the day (which we did return to). It was here that Massimo told us of the “best” pizza place in Rome, and that during the day there would be a queue of people lining up outside the door. He suggested we go between 11:30 and 12:00. I tucked that we nugget away. He’d also mentioned where to get the “best” gelato in Rome as well. Another gem added to the memory bank.

My memory wasn’t doing so well. When we arrived back at the office I asked Massimo to mark where the Pizza and Gelato places were on our map. Again with the interpretation being what it was, he proceeded to mark out every stop me made, then I asked if he could also indicate the places where the pizza and gelato were. Mission accomplished.

While I made use of the facilities (another toilet added as an afterthought) Massimo and Mr Fussy were discussing where to get a taxi from given the state of my sore feet. When I returned I decided that by the time we figured out where the taxi rank was, potentially waited for a taxi it would be just as quick to get across the river and back to the apartment. But I was very glad when we arrived and I could finally put my feet up.

We arrived in about 11pm and had to be out the door for 6:25am the following day for our Walks of Italy Tuscany tour.

 


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Firenze – that’s local for Florence

Hot, hot, hot. That’s what we got. Oh and lots of tourists. Lots of people unsure where they were or where they needed to be, or how to get there.

I learnt Pinacchio came from Florence

I learnt Pinocchio came from Florence

Actually that was us when we first arrived at what should have been our hotel. Google maps showed that we were in the right place, but nothing looked like a hotel. I wandered down the little side street (which wasn’t really little by European standards) but couldn’t find an entrance. I was about to make a call when I spotted a little metal plaque on the wall and sure enough, it was the name of the hotel. Thankfully they had a lift and by European standards it was fast (but still small). I went with the bags and Mr Fussy ran up the stairs keeping pace. The lift was glass so I could see him striding up the stairs.

A tiny wee plaque announced this doorway was in fact our hotel. Not surprising, many people have commented how hard it is to find.

A tiny wee plaque announced this doorway was in fact our hotel. Not surprising, many people have commented how hard it is to find.

We had arrived earlier than check in, and so had a number of other people by the state of all the luggage in the reception area. We got access to wifi and I looked up the website I had saved that gave a number of places to visit if you’ve got only 12 hours in the city. We had not made any plans as to what to do in Florence so these suggestions were what we decided to follow.

Again there are no cars in the city but the buses are everywhere, and with the foot planted on the gas pedal were making a bee-line to their next stop.

We noticed down one narrow street that the driver needed to stop (might have been a courier) but there was no where to park. So he stopped in the street, got out and went about his business. I was really surprised that no one behind him tooted or yelled. I guess that’s how things roll in Florence. But then we heard the siren of an emergency vehicle. We didn’t know which way it was going, but the increase in volume (like they actually had a switch to turn it up 9billion notches) told us that it was now behind all the vehicles that were stopped because of this other vehicle. That also included a bus. It still took a few second before we saw the stopped car drive past. Boy it might be hard when there’s an emergency when there’s no way to pull out passed other vehicles.

It felt wrong to be walking over these. It's a bit like a flattened cemetery with headstones.

It felt wrong to be walking over these. It’s a bit like a flattened cemetery with headstones.

Did I mention it was hot? Like really really hot. The Pharmacy (Farmacie) always has a flashing green cross and it changes to display the current temperature. 33 degrees. Yep, too hot for us.

The first stop was in fact the pharmacy. I knew I would not survive the day tripping about on my foot with a blister so I bought one of those gel type plaster tube thingess. I’ve had them in the past when I was training for The Kepler. It helped save my toes then, and I hoped it would do the same for me in Florence.

We were heading towards the tower not of the cathedral (not sure if it was a Basillica, Cathedral or just some massively impressive looking church), but the one just down to it. Sadly it had been cordoned off and Police and other officials were hanging around on the stairs. That put paid to that highlight. We trudged on toward the canal so that we could cross over an get to the gardens.

Stinky stinky stinky! I had to hold my nose.

Stinky stinky stinky! I had to hold my nose.

The canal was green, and in parts it stank so much that I couldn’t breathe. We stopped to take a few photos and one of the bridal couple that had stopped on the bridge for photos.

This was a great pizza. Best tasting tomatos!

This was a great pizza. Best tasting tomatos!

Our plan had been to buy lunch and then eat it in the gardens. But pretty much after crossing the canal all signs of places to order food had dried up. Instead we found a pizza store and sat to eat our “Special” pizza. The special was having cherry tomatos and mozzarella cheese. The tomato had so much flavour. They were the best I’ve ever tasted. The mozzarella cheese had started to melt, but it was still a bit cool in parts. It was stringy! The freshly squeezed orange juice and the fans circulating air were welcome. It was really strange how as soon as you got into a street that had shade, the temperature dropped to something much more tolerable.

We set out for the gardens but couldn’ figure out how you get into them. We had passed the place that had been marked on Google maps, but it was a museum. Instead we walked up the street seeing if we could find the entry point at the top. The climb gave us a pretty good view when we could see between the buildings.

Beautiful view of Florence from the gardens.

Beautiful view of Florence from the gardens.

At the top was a fortress. We walked up some more stairs and asked the attendant if we could walk around the outside of the building (which had been partially roped off). He said yes, but we had to buy a ticket for inside first. Inside was a gallery with the works of someone famous (I suppose). But at €30 each I didn’t need to see the view that badly.

While we had walked we again passed another entry point to what we assumed to be another gallery or museum. Having not found any way to enter the gardens (it was all walled off) we went to the entry point and found that it was the way to get into the gardens. It wasn’t free, but it wasn’t expensive. We paid our money and were rewarded with some great views across the city of Florence. I sat a while to give my feet a rest and Mr Fussy was again called to take photo of couples. He must look very approachable because he’s been asked by a lot of people to take their photo.

Having walked back down to the bottom through the gardens we carried on to our next stop. It was another church. Again there was a lot of gold going on. It was also the church that has Michelangelo’s tomb. It was a very impressive space. Not only were there lots of sculpted pieces inside the church, there was a lot of art.

Another building that comes off the courtyard has the sides of the walls sculpted. And the floor is completely covered in plaques. I guess it’s the equivalent of tombstones, but these were all laid on the floor. I was looking for the memorial for Florence Nightingale but I couldn’t find it in the location that had been indicated on the map.

So many stalls. Shoes, handbags, any sort of leathergoods.

So many stalls. Shoes, handbags, any sort of leathergoods.

I didn’t find Florence markedly different to Bologna like I had found Bologna so different to Modena. What I saw as being different were the amount of patterns “painted” on the buildings.

With it now well after check in time we decided to head back to the hotel, check in, then go to the gallery where the statue of David is. What I hadn’t realised was the queue that was awaiting us. You can imagine how thrilled I was when my feet were aching and it was so hot. We stood in the queue for an hour waiting to be admitted. Each 15 minutes there was an intake of waiting tourists. While we were waiting I got chatting to the mother and daughter next to us. I had been listening to them talk and trying to pick up if they were saying anything that sounded Australian. I didn’t. They were Kiwis. The daughter is working in London and Mum is from Auckland visiting. It was so nice to have a chat to people that knew where we were from (NZ) and we could talk things that were topical to us.

Overall the number of English speaking tourists had really increased. As had the size of motor powered bikes. We’d seen many many little scooters but now we were seeing full on motorbikes. Oh and stalls. There were stalls everywhere selling mostly leather bags and t-shirts, or shoes. You could actually smell the leather out on the street. This was the first place we had been where there were street vendors like this. Mr Fussy kept telling me there would be lots of opportunity to buy shoes in Florence but I hadn’t understood it would be like this. The write up from the website we were following had said there was no need to shop in department stores, that there would be so many stalls you could get all you needed from the San Lorenzo market, but to haggle for a price. I was too intimidated to even pull a bag off the rack to see what zips/pockets they had, let along try and negotiate a better price. Yes, TOURIST was in big capital letters blazon across my forehead.

A visit to Florence has to include a stop at the museum and some snaps of the statue of David.

A visit to Florence has to include a stop at the museum and some snaps of the statue of David.

Ahh yes, where was I. The queue to the museum. When we finally were admitted Mr Fussy pointed me in the direction of where the statue was, he’s been to Florence before. More than anything I was happy to see there were bench seats lining the viewing area and after a few hasty photos I retreated to the seating.

(We’re currently in Rome, hiding from the heat, on our last full day discussing what we did after the piece I’ve written above – we’ve come to the conclusion).

The Hurdie-gurdy is real!

The Hurdy-gurdie is real!

Having wandered around the Museum and having a look at the paintings and the musical instrument section it was time to move on. That meant heading back out into the heat. There was still a line of people waiting to be admitted. On a Tuesday (during certain months of the year) the Museum has extended hours, and a Tuesday the Museum is open until 10pm.

We scooted up the road to find the post office. The Post Office was of course closed. There was no sign of anywhere to drop any mail. I assumed there would be, or at least should be, but nothing was obvious. The Post Office was sort of under an arch, and the space beyond the arch had some painting on the wall that a woman was photographing. We decided to wander back there, and sure enough, against a wall behind the painting, but along the outside wall of the Post Office was the red box. Now we knew what to look for.

With the post card in the mail we made our way back along the same roads and this time stopped to take a few photos of Pinocchio.

After another stinking hot day, this was dinner.

After another stinking hot day, this was dinner.

We sat on the steps of the San Lorenzo market and debated what to do for dinner. I consulted the Yelp application again which told me there was an extremely good restaurant right next to us. We could see it from where we were sitting. Neither of us felt like food. It had been too hot, and we were too tired from the day. Of course I always have room for Gelato, and since it had been so hot, Gelato was a good choice.  With the Yelp app at the ready it told us there was a really good stop in less than a kilometre from where we were sitting.

The shop was down a little street and there were people sitting outside having their dinner. As has been the case in almost every gelato shop, the flavours are a completely mystery. Sometimes you’ll find a place that has almost English names to go with it. The place in Bologna had an English menu that was handed to me. I really didn’t know what to have, and I really didn’t know what flavours were available. The man at the counter did his best to explain and it was lucky there were no other customers otherwise I doubt I’d have been given the same help. One flavour I screwed my nose up at and he gave me a plastic spoon to taste. It was great. I thought he said it was Ricotta, it had tiny little bits orange and lemon rind and it was fresh and creamy. So Cookies and Cream (I got tired or pointing and asking) and this lovely fresh tasting Ricotta gelato. Mr Fussy must have been feeling very hot because his serve was a very large cup.

We were able to sit inside and eat. While we were doing so a “local” arrived. I watched while he ordered a tub, which looked like an oblong polystyrene container, full of differnet flavoured gelato. The gelato was weighed (minus the weight of the container) and the gentleman put his €10 on the counter (our combined Gelato was €9) and was given some change. Wow. Wish first of all we had good Gelato at home, and second of all you could order it “to go”. I think TipTop would have some competition.

All of a sudden, this is how you present gelato in Florence. Towers of the stuff.

All of a sudden, this is how you present gelato in Florence. Towers of the stuff.

Our day was done. It wasn’t late, but we were tired, hot (still) and weary. We stayed in our lovely cooled hotel room, the best accommodation we’ve had amongst our hotel accommodation, and just caught up on what was happening around the world, and of course trying to catch up on my blog posts before forgetting too much!

The following day we quickly headed down for breakfast. This hotel had a basket of fruit, including stone fruit. I was a very happy girl. Mr Fussy even got to cook some toast, the real thing, not some pre-packaged cracker sized portion of “toast”.

Mr Fussy was out of clean t-shirts and he had spotted a stall the previous day that sold them but thought it was too early for them to be set up. They certainly weren’t up and around the corner of San Lorenzo we could view from the hotel, but we wandered out onto a side street and they were all geared up ready for customers.

With just 20 minutes before we had to be out the door on our way to the train station we managed to walk most of the length of the street. Mr Fussy bought two t-shirts and after a bit of looking about I came away with a leather bag. I had heard you were meant to haggle with the price, but that’s way out of my comfort zone, and I’ve never done it before. The stall owner said the price that it would usually be and that he would reduce it by €10. That was good enough for me to feel like I’d not been ripped off (but I bet I could have haggled still). Hand bag purchased we raced back to the hotel to grab our cases.

People are everywhere! Of course it is the height of the tourist season.

People are everywhere! Of course it is the height of the tourist season.

Thankfully the streets hadn’t quite come to life like they had when we arrived. We were able to negotiate out way through the streets much more easily. Again our train was delayed. I really believed the trains ran like clockwork, but so far that had not been our experience.

We were a bit nervous again about the space allocated to store luggage. So many people on the platform had large suitcases. Sure enough, by the time we got to the front of the queue to board the train there was no luggage space in the allocated area. With a 2 hour train ride I didn’t want to end up having to nurse the bags like we had going from Modena to Bologna. The overhead shelves are really sturdy, Mr Fussy got a workout trying to lift his 22kg (we know this now that we’ve dropped our bags off for our flight from Rome to Gatwick) above his head and onto the shelf. My bag has a slightly narrower but taller shape and it was able to fit between two seats that were backing onto each other, creating a cavity that luggage can be stowed.

When we got the bags sorted we saw another woman was in one of our seats. She had her head down busy tapping out a message on her iPhone. I had said excuse me but she paid no attention. Mr Fussy started waving our tickets under her nose to get her attention. I explained she was in one of seats. It was like water off a ducks back. She collected some of the trash that was littered all over the tray table and just moved over to another seat. I picked up what she left behind and placed it on her new seat, she thanked me for it. Weird. It looked like rubbish. But at least she moved without making a big deal out of it.

The first class tickets gets you some service. Nothing more than what you’d expect on an Air New Zealand domestic flight. A drink and either a sweet or savoury snack. Unlike our train ride from Bologna to Florence, this ride was not all through tunnels although we had a couple of them.

Best view from down in the city. Oh, and how fun to have a carousel in the middle of things.

Best view from down in the city. Oh, and how fun to have a carousel in the middle of things.

Roma Termi is a very busy station and it wasn’t immediately obvious where the taxi rank was. This was going to be our first time using a taxi. Everywhere else the distance from the train to our accommodation has been within walking distance or a short metro ride that put us almost within metres of our accommodation. Our AirBnB accommodation in Rome was a little bit away from the Metro or Bus stop and after hauling our bags around and up hills and over cobbled streets I just wasn’t having any of it. I had been online and checked out the cost that we weould likely pay from the station to the apartment and for €13 it was well worth it to take the hassle out of negotiating the metro and still having to walk a bit.

So having arrived in Rome, it was time to scout out the taxis.

 


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Bologna – home of Porticos

One of many porticos

One of many porticos

Each new place we visit we notice the architecture changing. Given Bologna is just 20+ minutes by train down the road from Modena we were surprised how much the buildings differed.a

Bologna seems to be the city of porticos. I was thankful for this because it was raining. We had been inside the Church, gazing at the wonder of all the gold that was now being used as part of the “decoration”, and walked out into the light to find it was absolutely bucketing down. We knew that thunderstorms were expected and we had set out prepared. We bought a Samsonite fold up umbrella in Geneva (yes I know I’ve not got a post about Geneva, I’m still processing what I feel about the place) and we’ve used it almost every place we’ve stopped (except Milan) because it always rains on us.

Another fine example. There are so many to choose from.

Another fine example. There are so many to choose from. This one however if inside the 7 churches of Santo Stefano.

So the porticos offered some shelter, but the marble is a little slippery. I’m so confused about which side of the street (or portico) to walk on. It’s been that way for a while now. I keep thinking I’m walking on the opposite side to where I walk in NZ, but everywhere it seems like I’m in the way. I asked Sara during our Walking tour in Milan, and she indicated that I was correct to be walking on the right hand side. But I’m not sure when you’re walking down the left hand side of the street if you’re still meant to be walking on the right hand side of the path. Anyway, the constant ducking and diving and often having to step into the street has left me very wary and I’m starting to get annoyed at people who I have to step out onto the street for. Why must people stop in the very narrow path, I mean just stop dead. Why don’t they realise that there will be people behind them. And I’m getting frustrated that I have to put my own life in jeopardy by stepping out onto the road just because someone has stopped for a photo opportunity.

First on our list of things to do was to have lunch. I used the Yelp application to suss out a place for lunch and we headed there.

Here’s another example of not understanding the custom and botching things up. Lunch is the significant meal of the day, and you have a First and a Second. This was the first place we’d been to that had their menu set out like this. We both ordered a First, the waiter said in a slightly disbelieving voice “no second?”. Based on the way he said it I consulted Google who gave me the information I needed about how to order in Italy. I guess I should have looked sooner, but as I say, this was the first place we’d been that have a First and a Second section. They also have the Appetisers. To me that’s a first. Anyhoo.

This from the "First" menu for lunch.

This from the “First” menu for lunch.

Since Modena we were being served really oddly (by our standards) shaped breads. They were almost like a pretzel in texture/density.

Since Modena we were being served really oddly (by our standards) shaped breads. They were almost like a pretzel in texture/density.

I had the roasted Lasagne and Mr Fussy ordered their special of the day, it had Vodka in the sauce. It was a “small” pasta as per the waiter’s description. It didn’t have as much flavour as Mr Fussy wanted so he started piling on the Parmesan cheese. He also didn’t finish it, but I did. See, I did have a second ;-)

Having finished lunch we started to work our way through the places that had been suggested to visit if you only have 3 hours. Yes we had longer, but my feet just don’t want to play the game and protest as soon as we venture out.

Lots of gold.

Lots of gold.

So many details. And I think cake decorating has its challenges.

So many details. And I think cake decorating has its challenges.

The church was lovely. We didn’t know if we could take photos and we didn’t see anyone else doing so. The thing about all this travelling about is having to commit to memory some of the sights, and sounds, of the places you visit. Even with the photos it still becomes a blur.

Statue of Neptune, as you'll have guessed.

Statue of Neptune, as you’ll have guessed. And those stormy clouds that weren’t there for decoration.

We easily found the statute of Neptune in the Piazza. The Piazza was like others we’d seen, it is obviously old, and you know it’s a communal place, but it also seems to be the place of a massive screen and rows upon rows of chairs. I suspect the night before they had shown the final of the Soccer and it would have been flooded with people.

I really wanted to see the glass floor which showed the original flooring underneath but it seemed the place was sort of shut at the time so we moved on.

As we walking the streets to reach a kitchen shop, we passed a window that had celebration cakes in the window. I was pretty happy to see this, it gave me hope there might be somewhere that sold cake supplies. When I got up closer to the window I could see the cakes, and shelf were covered in dust. I suspect that display hadn’t been changed for quite some time.

Buildings around Santo Stefano.

Buildings around Santo Stefano.

We weren’t far from the Santo Stefano church that has 7 churches within its structure. We paid €5 for a booklet (in English) that described the history of the place. There was nothing to say whether photos were ok (many places have a sign, but a sign that says no flash – surprising how many people can’t understand the symbol). Mr Fussy decided that our payment for the book now entitled us to take photos, which we did. Such an amazing place. Some of the rooms were too dark to get a good photo. The ceilings were pieces of art in themselves.

The tower on the left had a horrendous lean. Hard to tell from this angle but trust me!

The tower on the left had a horrendous lean. Hard to tell from this angle but trust me!

It was getting late in the afternoon and I still wanted to go up the tower. I guess if I’d done more homework I might have been persuaded to give this a miss. There’s 498 stairs to climb. The shorter of the two towers is on an awful lean and I was astounded when I saw them, just how badly it leant. Anyway we had enough time (just) to get up the taller of the two towers. In order to buy your ticket you’re already inside the structure and walking a number of stairs (in a spiral) to get to the booth to pay. The booth is strangely set into the side of the structure. It’s not a place I would want to work. There’s nowhere to move!

The captivating views especially seeing the rain hovering over the city.

The captivating views especially seeing the rain hovering over the city.

What goes up must come down.

What goes up must come down.

At some point as we were climbing I was starting to have serious doubt whether I could continue. I just had a sense how high we were. The stairs were made of wood, some section sloped and that gave me a really uneasy feeling. I was looking at how they were held to the side of the brick work which didn’t give me any peace, and the railings were quite widely spaced. It was not a very happy place for me. I kept wanting us to be almost at the top. At some points they had built a floor. I would stop and re-evaluate my desire to reach the top. The only reason that kept me going was the experience. I knew that I’d be disappointed if I didn’t continue, and it’s not like I was going to get another crack at it. So on I trudged. Mr Fussy who doesn’t like heights was doing really well. In some respects he was actually encouraging me. Often we had to stop and cling to the wall in order to let someone else down. The stairs were so narrow that you couldn’t fit two people, and I would not want to be squashed against the railing. I get a bit selfish in a situation that I feel might put my life in danger.

On and on we went. Finally we had just 2 flights to go. Mr Fussy giving me the last bit I needed to continue on. We’d not been up and out the top before the rain began to fall hard. Those last sets of stairs were unbelievably steep, and they were wet when we ascended. I didn’t want to slip and fall so I didn’t hang around very long before heading back down. Despite feeling wobbly and anxious about the climb (remember I have a problem with stairs and my judgement of stepping), I was fine at the top. There wasn’t much room to move, but we got some good photos. I suspected the descent would be easier, and it was (mentally), but it still took a good long time to reach the bottom.

Phew. Back down to earth and into the daylight, well as light as it is when it’s raining hard. We skipped across the road and as we were walking I recognised the name of the department store, Coin. I wasn’t looking out for it or expecting to go in, but since we were there, well.

Lots of cookie cutters for me!

Lots of cookie cutters for me!

I picked up a couple of interesting things from the Homeware department. A silicone stick that will be much better when making caramel (never far from my mind) and this funny little felt type pads (looks like a flower with petals) that is placed inside a non-stick pan that you then place another pan onto. Genius. I really need to find somewhere that sells the gloves used to scrub veggies. I’ve seen them in other places we’ve visited but haven’t bought them yet. They kind of look like a shower glove, like the ones you get from The Body Shop but they have the name of the vegetable they’re designed for. I haven’t looked close enough to see if the scrubby bit of them changes based on the type of vegetable they are designed for.

We exited out of a different door having wandered past handbags and scarves and when we reach the street I looked around and saw a Lamborghini store. It didn’t take much discussion with Mr Fussy to take a look He’s funny, at times I have to really encourage him to go into a shop and try things on. We didn’t realise this shop also had a sale, there wasn’t any signage that I recall. Anyway after picking out a top that I thought was his type he gladly paid for it, and got a free energy drink (yet to be drunk, he’s carting it around with him at the mo). Then I spotted some other t-shirts and he went upstairs to try one on (and saw a Lamborghini road bike which he pointed out to me) while I found another colour he often chooses. So that’s a further two t-shirts. He has no intention of wearing any of them while we’re traveling, even though he needs more t-shirts, and had expected to buy them as we went on. Now he has a Lamborghini member’s card which he’s pretty proud of. They ship, but Mr Fussy suspects that they won’t ship as far as New Zealand. And I suspect that if they did, the cost wouldn’t make it worthwhile.

My feet were aching. This seems to be a really common theme now. I don’t know how I could have prepared for being on them every day, all day. During the weekends I’m usually on them most of the day with cookie or cake baking/decorating. But this is something else. Now evening during the nights, when I’m off them I hardly feel any relief the following day. My shoes are comfortable under normal conditions, but they feel like the enemy right now.

Mr Fussy's First

Mr Fussy’s First

My First.

My First.

All I wanted to do was head back to the hotel so I could sit for a while before heading out to dinner. As for dinner, I picked another place that was close, and recommended on Yelp. This time I did the whole First and Second thing. I was probably doing it all wrong since it was dinner time, not lunch. This waiter didn’t blink with the order so perhaps it was ok.

I can tell you that after two weeks of not having any red meat we were very happy to see steak and lamb on the menu, and in fact it was one of the draw cards for me when reading the Yelp reviews. I started with a fettuccini and Mr Fussy with a Tortellini. Next came my lamb, it was really quite cheap, just €10 so I wasn’t expecting a big plate full, but that’s what I got, and what I ate! I was disappointed the salad tasted weird. I really am hanging out for a good plate of veggies. I really should order some, somewhere. Mr Fussy’s steak arrived and it was really large, and it was expensive at €22. He was thoroughly enjoying it, ad while was completely full he wasn’t leaving any behind. He had such a big grin eating it.

Mmmm, lamb. They really had a thing for sprinkling the plates with a little grated carrot.

Mmmm, lamb. They really had a thing for sprinkling the plates with a little grated carrot.

Massive steak with Balsamic vinegar sauce.

Massive steak with Balsamic vinegar sauce.

The following morning we took a stroll to the Post Office. I couldn’t find a box to put the post card in so had to take a number inside and wait my turn. When my turn was up the guy looked really confused about me handing over a post card with the stamp already on it. I suspect there was a place to drop letters etc, but it wasn’t obvious to us where it was.

With everything already packed up we made our way to the train station and waited for the platform number to be displayed. This time we knew to look at the board on the platform for instructions about where the first class carriages would be, and this time there were little monitors all along the platform that lit up with the carriage number close to when the train arrived. The only thing we had to worry about was finding room for the luggage. Thankfully we managed to squeeze it in and sit comfortably in our seats. Sadly, most of the trip was through tunnels so we didn’t have an opportunity to admire any views.


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The Machines of Modena and Maranello

Bring on the fast cars.

Bring on the fast cars.

Our train to Modena was fairly uneventful, after we left the train station. The compartments fit 6 people, 3 each side, facing each other. Mark and I were in the middle positions facing each other, between two couples. One an older couple, the other young. The young couple were the ones interpreting to us what had happened with the man asking for money to buy a ticket for his family member.

We arrived in Modena just after midday. Again using Google maps to help navigate from the station to the hotel. What a bumpy trip that was for our luggage. The footpaths were cobbled with small square stones.

We arrived at the hotel and the lady at reception was very good at showing us a map and explaining where we were and how to get to various sights, she mentioned a couple of restaurants and said we should not pay any more than 25-30 Euros (I don’t know if that was all up or individually). She mentioned that we’d be able to see the whole town and go into every church in 3 hours. This gave us the impression the place was really small.

Welcome to small town living in Italy.

Except, well we got lost, sort of. In the end I felt we had walked way too far before seeing the Duomo. I resorted to Google Maps. We were well of course, and had walked far from where we were meant to be. But this place was huge, well based on what we’d been lead to believe.

You buy Focaccia by weight. That seems fair to me. At least you get as much/little as you feel like.

You buy Focaccia by weight. That seems fair to me. At least you get as much/little as you feel like.

We happily found another Grom Gelato shop on our way back to the main city centre.

We happily found another Grom Gelato shop on our way back to the main city centre.

We were hungry, it was around 1:30pm. We found a little place that sold lunch type food, and alcoholic drinks (if you wanted). We bought a slab of Focaccia. They sell it based on weight. It was lovely. It had lots of holes in it. It was real artisan bread. However placing the order was a little difficult. This was our first place where the younger generation did not understand or speak English very well. I just assumed anyone that looked to have been in school recently would have a fair grasp of English. We did this little dance about whether we were eating in or take away and having established we were eating in, we got into a vicious circle about whether we were paying first, or later. Really we didn’t care when we paid. One of the other young staff members had to help sort that tangle out.

Balsamic Vinegar. To tell if it's the really good stuff you tip the bottle and then back up the right way. The longer it takes for the balsamic vinegar to slide down the neck the better it is. The most expensive bottle I found was 75 Euro.

Balsamic Vinegar. To tell if it’s the really good stuff you tip the bottle and then back up the right way. The longer it takes for the balsamic vinegar to slide down the neck the better it is. The most expensive bottle I found was 75 Euro.

On our way back to where we were meant to be we found another Grom Gelato store and tried some other flavours. This was my first gelato in a cone. I know. How exciting – right?

The streets were very quiet, it was weird having just come from Milan where it was very much alive, and full of people. Here we saw very few people, even when we got to the main street. The buildings and shops looked so different from Milan. It’s like they were poles apart. The cobbled piazza was almost a ripple of cobbles. They were formed in waves, probably worn by centuries of use and paved out by horse and buggy. I’m guessing. Maybe they land just wasn’t as stable.

The Piazza. Cobbled waves. People biked over this, their bells ringing because it was so bumpy.

The Piazza. Cobbled waves. People biked over this, their bells ringing because it was so bumpy.

The Duomo was closed so we decided to pop back to the hotel and return later. When we did come back the place was thriving. It’s like it was two different towns. I guess this place is one where people pack up during the heat of the day and come back later. Of course it rained, so heat wasn’t really a factor, at least not when we’d ventured out for lunch.

Modena is fairly vast as it turns out.

Modena is fairly vast as it turns out.

We had just enough time to go up the tower of the Duomo. It was meant to be closed from 6:30 (but closed properly at 7pm) but the lady allowed us to go anyway. From the top we could see how big Modena is, and it’s way bigger than we understood.

Having taken some photos we decided to stay close to the Piazza and have dinner at one of the restaurants there. Not understanding the way things are done here we completely confused the waiter. We wanted a drink and dinner. We realised after the fact that the whole drink thing with free snacks was still the norm here, so it made no sense to have a drink (with snacks) and dinner. We drank our drink with our dinner. We are slowly learning what the customs are, but not before doing it wrong the first time.

Mr Fussy's "tortellini". The OMG moment. Perhaps there's a foodie in there after all.

Mr Fussy’s “tortellini”. The OMG moment. Perhaps there’s a foodie in there after all. Alright, I’ve just had a proper look at the photo I took, and yes this pasta is tortellini. It didn’t look lik 

The Tortona/Cupcake.

The Tortino/Cupcake.

We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner. Mr Fussy took his first mouthful of his Tortellini and said Oh My God (I’ve never heard him say that). He said it was the best pasta he’d ever tasted and at that point told me we were coming back for dinner the following day (and we did) so he could have it again. The thing is that his pasta dish did not look like Tortellini at all, I thought it was Tagliatelle. This meant that I convinced Mr Fussy on our return visit that the waiter had written the wrong thing and so we both ordered the Tagliatelle. It was not the same dish he had the night before, still very nice, but a disappointment for him when he wanted the same dish. Oops. The other strange thing was the chocolate dessert. The menu had both Italian and English descriptions. They had Tortino/Cupcake. The description made me thing that cupcake was not correct, they talked about a chocolate sauce. When the waiter said there would be a 12 minute wait I suspected the dessert was a Lava Cake (Molten cake, Fondant cake). I was right. Mr Fussy had the Semifreddo. A first for him. It was really nice (of course I had some). But the second night he had the Tortone and I had the Lambrusco Sorbet (made with a local grape).

Mr Fussy happily standing for this photo.

Mr Fussy happily standing for this photo.

Le Ferrari. This was in a dark room. Every now and then the sound of the engine would be heard meaning the lights would flicker for a moment. I had to time it right for taking a photo.

Le Ferrari. This was in a dark room. Every now and then the sound of the engine would be heard meaning the lights would flicker for a moment. I had to time it right for taking a photo.

Well the whole purpose of dropping into Modena was the Ferrari Museum. When we arrived at our hotel we realised the Enzo Ferrari Museum was almost next door. It wasn’t on our list of things to do in Modena but we strolled down their first. This Museum has more about Maserati than Ferrari’s but the outside building was the original building used to build a Ferrari, and the building in which Enzo was born.

Logo changes over the passage of time.

Logo changes over the passage of time.

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This is inside the building Enzo Ferrari was born, at the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena.

What I found most interesting here was the development of the Ferrari logo. I got a t-shirt in Milan that shows some of the change over time, but the Museum had the full history of the change.

Mr Fussy was so funny. Of all the other places we’ve been to, and the bookings made, only today was he concerned that I had the tickets. First up was to make our way back to the Train Station for our shuttle bus. We found a much more direct way to get here, all covered, and the pathing much more smooth. Trying to convince the driver that one of the three pages (double sided) I had was confirmation of our shuttle was one thing. He either knew no English (hard to believe an employee sent to collect mostly Tourists wouldn’t know how to speak English) or couldn’t be bothered having a conversation with us. Anyway all sorted and we were on our way. Mr Fussy was very excited. I’m not sure how this rates for him amongst all the other things we’ve done/seen so far (let me ask – not the top, the Tortellini in Modena does!).

Mr Fussy receiving instructions on how to work the simulator.

Mr Fussy receiving instructions on how to work the simulator.

Many powerful horses here.

Many powerful horses here.

The shuttle driver turned out to be a bit of a race car driver, or at least he treated the shuttle bus like it was a sports car. He was tooting at vehicles that were going slower than he wanted to sit behind and he was weaving in and out of the traffic. We were glad to have had our seat (lap) belts on.

And we arrived. Collecting the tickets we had ordered online was a very smooth process. The ordering of them was not. What we found out is the tickets allowed entry just the once. As soon as we exited the museum that was it. We could return to the car simulation, and the café but not back into the museum. We had a Ferrari Factory tour booked at 12:30pm, the guy at the counter seemed to think we had plenty of time to get through the museum before the tour. I expected the place to be really big, and that 2 hours would be insufficient, but I was wrong. Shows how much I know about the history of Ferrari and what to expect in the museum. We had time to swap Mr Fussy’s F1 simulator experience and fit it in before the factory tour.

I hadn’t realised that the museum would be in a township, I thought it was all part of the factory and the factory was just out in the sticks, but Maranello is a place and people live and work there. I was happy to have a chance to look around. We didn’t really spent time looking. Instead we had lunch after the factory tour and then grabbed an earlier shuttle back to Modena.

Having returned earlier we pretty much holed ourselves up in the hotel room until it was closer to dinner time. My feet were aching and it was hot and we retreated to the room where there was air conditioning, and I could get off my feet.  So while there, here’s what we wrote up of the factory tour.

*******

Before we forget I’m going to jot down all the facts we can remember from our tour to the Ferrari Factory located in Maranello.

Obviously they believe they have the best mechanics. Only the best of the best get to hand built a 12 cylinder car which uses 900 individual parts all put together by hand. The mechanic signs his name to the build so that if anything does go wrong, they can go directly to the mechanic.

An 8 cylinder engine has 700 (plus, can’t remember the exact number) individual parts.

The restaurant feeds 2500 employees a day. Who knew there were so many people involved.

The waiting list for a Ferrari 458 (the older models) car is between 12-13 months. For a road car (le Ferrari), the waiting time is 2 years. Mark said the Wheels Magazine said it was 4 years.

All the streets are named after drivers who have won with the exception for Michael Schumacher who has a Piazza named after him. And of course the main street is called Enzo Ferrari.

There’s a pool that the car bodies are dipped into, then rotated 360 degrees to ensure they are completely, and evenly coloured.

They have a purpose built racing lap which includes particular corners from around the world (Spain and Germany were mentioned in particular). Michael Schumacher has the fastest lap time of 55seconds in 2004. The lap is 3 km (well it’s shy by a few metres). They took the tour down the track. The bus tour can’t always drive the track, but since there was no testing today it was available for the bus to drive on.

They have a new prototype at the moment. The bus took us down a section that is not normally part of the tour (but who would know), and we passed this white car with lots of black squares on it. It was painted in this way so that if you took a photo of it, the photo would just show the car as a blur and no one would be able to copy the design.

They take each newly built car out into little towns where the population is low so they can test the car on every type of road surface to ensure the car behaves as expected.

What had been Enzo Ferrari’s office (which is in a white building of 2 floors) is not the accommodation section for the drivers. It has their sleeping quarters, a gym, a place for relaxation. There’s a separate building adjacent which is where the press go when there’s a press conference on site.

*******

Inside the Duomo.

Inside the Duomo.

Clock outside the Piazza. It's accurate.

Clock outside the Piazza. It’s accurate.

Monday morning we slipped back into the Duomo and were able to get inside the church itself. Again we were surprised by the people in Modena. We thought the place came alive after 3:30pm, but on a weekday we actually saw people dressed in usual office attire. I’m not sure what we were really expecting, but I think the description the lady at reception had given us, and our first “look” at Modena left us with the feeling that it was a sleepy little back water township. But really it’s not.

What a thriving little market. And it's own water feature too.

What a thriving little market. And it’s own water feature too.

We came across an inside market which I didn’t know existed. What a great way to food shop. Everything you need is there, and I suspect you know the people running the stalls by name as a local. I wish we lived in a place that had daily markets selling fresh produce, meats, cheeses and the like.

After our quick trip through the township it was time to collect our bags and head off to the train station.

Because the lift was not working when we arrived on the Saturday we expected to find it still not working. So after hauling our suitcases up several sets of stairs to the platform we groaned when we saw others using the lift.

We hadn’t realised the LED display gave information about the train layout. We missed seeing that the first class carriages were at the “head” of the train. We had to run many carriages to get to the right place. No small feat when you’ve got full laden suitcases and we’re trying to negotiate your path there around others. Also the trains seem to be really prompt at leaving the station (ours was 10 minutes late arriving, so they weren’t looking to hang around longer than necessary). The whistle sounded before we had both made it onto the train.

Our train was quite full and when we got on we had nowhere to store our suitcases. We jammed them in our area as best we could, but they still overhung into the aisle. A middle aged man approached us and tried to tell us that we were in his seats. Of course he didn’t speak English and we couldn’t understand him, but enough was said and gestured that we knew what he was implying. We had to bring out our printed copy of our booking and point and gesture at the seat signs to try and get across that we were seated correctly. He apologised, which we did understand. His granddaughter was meant to be in the set of 4 seats on the opposite side of the aisle and he sorted that out with the lady with her two boys, who had taken up the 4 seats with bags etc on the spare seat.

Our trip from Modena to Bologna was less than 30 minutes and as soon as we stood to manoeuvre our bags out into the aisle the man and his wife pretty much were in our seats. They wasted no time.

Having arrived in Bologna it was time to consult with Google maps to determine the way out of the station to reach our hotel. We’re getting better with the local train stations, but it’s not always straightforward to understand which side of the station you should exit to ensure you’re on the right side for where you need to be.


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Magnificant Milan

Italy. So much passion. So much to see and experience. Let's go!

Italy. So much passion. So much to see and experience. Let’s go!

So it turns out 4 hours sitting on a train in First Class can also numb the bum. But the view are so much more impressive than flying. We saw some beautiful countryside between Geneva and Milan. The housing changed a lot. I was so surprised to see single dwelling homes as we passed through one settlement to another.  The weather was still grey and it would rain off and on. I was forever hopeful that we would arrive in Milan to the promised 25 degrees, and sunshine. I was not disappointed.

Leonardo da Vinci and his 4 scholars.

Leonardo da Vinci and his 4 scholars.

We arrived at 5:35pm and to reach our apartment required us to swap Metro lines. All up it took 45 minutes for us to leave Milan Centrale and arrive at our location.

Chiara, our hostess, had gone to France for a photo shoot and her Mum met us. She was such a lovely lady. She had broken her ankle and was tottering around using a crutch, she was flitting here and there (Chiara’s apartment is right next door) trying to find the keys that the previous occupants were to have left. In the end she gave us her own keys. The apartment is in a complex that is also used by businesses. The NASDAQ is one of the businesses in the same complex. And since we were here on a Friday, it got relatively lively outside when the business day started. No sleep in for us.

Friday night we walked quite a way up the main street to find Portobello, a Pizza Restaurant that had rave reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor. The place was buzzing. There was only one lady serving all of the tables in our section of the building. I was trying to count and came up with over 30 customers. She was actually running.

Mozart. What a great composer.

Beethoven. What a great composer.

We didn’t know what you were supposed to do with requesting the bill. Everywhere else we’ve had to request it. Because she was so busy it took an age before Mr Fussy could grab her attention, and then I think it was roughly 30 minutes before she returned with the bill. All the while it was getting hotter and hotter inside. I really thought I might pass out. We left the money on the table and were about to leave when we saw that other people were at the front counter paying. Mr Fussy had to return for the bill and money and then wait his turn to make the payment. I was very glad to be outside in the cooler air, though it was still 28degrees at 10pm. On our way back to the apartment we stopped at a restaurant that had Gelato in the front of their shop. This was our first Gelato and it did not disappoint.

This morning (Friday) we went for a stroll to fill in time before Sara, our guide, arrived to collect us for 10:45am. We found the Ferrari store quite by accident and only had around 15 minutes to have a look around. We still came away with some t-shirts. Sales are on here in Milan too. Everything was discounted. Score!

The church in the Duomo is constantly under construction.

The church in the Duomo is constantly under construction.

Sara was a wonderful guide, she had studied History at University and then studied for one more year to sit her exams to become a Guide of Art and History. I asked what would happen if you didn’t pass. She explained you would have to wait one more year since the exams occur only once a year.

We started out the tour at the Duomo and Sara explained in great detail how it was built, the materials, the employees, the length of time, the owners, the number of statutes, the Saints and the Gargoyles. It was so interesting. The church is the very centre of Milan, and Milan got its name because it is the middle land, right in the middle between the alps and the lake. There was previously a church on the site but it was torn down to build the new church. If you look at the pavement of the existing church you’ll see that it is etched out to show where the original church stood. It took over 300 years to complete the church with more than 7000 workers working at one time. The owner built the church mostly so that he could gain favour with the people and therefore bought his status and rights in the city. Despite being devious, the plan did work. He even bought the hill that all the marble came from, then had canals built so the marble could be shipped since it was both heavy and delicate. The stain glass told stories. You read them from bottom to top. Perhaps this is the usual way, but we didn’t know before now that each told a story and how you read it.

Sara wanted to know if we wanted to go inside (it’s free, but 2 euro if you want to take photos) but we said we would return. We were also going to go and walk the stairs to the top, as well as have a drink at the restaurant in the department store that looked back over to the church. It would give us a nice view from the outside. The church is absolutely enormous, the biggest church I’ve seen with my own eyes.

There were 4 symbols on the floor of the Emanuelle II, this one has a story behind it. If you put the heel of your foot on the bull and rotate twice (clockwise) it will bring you good luck. Look how worn that one spot is.

There were 4 symbols on the floor of the Galleria Emanuele Vitoria II, this one has a story behind it. If you put the heel of your foot on the bull and rotate twice (clockwise) it will bring you good luck. Look how worn that one spot is.

Staring up at the octagon section of the Galleria Emanuele II

Staring up at the octagon section of the Galleria Emanuele Vitoria II

Our next stop was the Campari bar, this is still the original building, still owned by the Campari family. Sara had an espresso while Mr Fussy and I downed a cold water. We looked at all the original mosaic workings on the walls. Just stunning.

The Campari bar is at the opening of the Galleria Emanuele Vitoria II, and what an equally stunning gallery it is. Sadly this place had been bombed and the octagon was destroyed and was quickly rebuilt. This is the first place to have received electricity.

The museum holds all the costumes as well

The museum holds all the costumes as well

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And of the time, plays were held where all the actors wore masks. These are some of them.

And of the time, plays were held where all the actors wore masks. These are some of them.

Onto the Art and Music museum it was. We went inside (we got a discount since our entry was with a guided tour). All sorts of famous composers wrote music in and for this place. Sara explained the social importance of having a family box in the theatre. This was like a second home for the family. They would come here to play cards each night, or bet, or look for a wife. And it was a social status. The higher up your box was and the closer it was to the Royal box, the more wealthy you were.

We learnt lots of staff about Neo Classical and Art Nouveau, but I can’t tell which bits related to what now. I recall the theatre was originally wooden and destroyed one night by a fire. The Austrian Queen was in Milan at the time and wanted it rebuilt, but out of stone. She commissioned her architect at the time and he along with some other chap built it to what it is today. Sara also explained that there were two men (I know they’re well-known and famous but I don’t remember their names either!) left in their wills for royalties to be used for the upkeep of another building that is used for budding musicians to go and play. And people do.

Just the one side of the wall. And this isn't taken from the middle to the right. It's an impressive, dominating looking castle, for which the palace was then built inside. It too was bombed.

Just the one side of the wall. And this isn’t taken from the middle to the right. It’s an impressive, dominating looking castle, for which the palace was then built inside. It too was bombed.

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We left the art and music museum for the fortress, I knew Mr Fussy would be very interested in this. And this is another amazing site. We got to see that there are two moats and drawbridges. They ended up building a palace within the fortress. The Duke at the time then had Leonard da Vinci working for him for 22 years, he was the first artist that was paid a salary rather than paid a one-off fee for a piece of art. Because Leonardo had all this time he was able to study more the human form and engineering, he even studied audiology. What an extremely clever man he was, and well ahead of his time. I had no idea he actually started out as an engineer. It was in the Palace that he had his four students who were learning under him.

Our last stop was the Santa Maria delle Grazie where The Last Supper is. Sara was explaining that Leonardo was meant to paint a fresco painting. Fresco paintings are done when the walls are still wet and the paint is applied while wet so that when the walls dry the paint is absorbed into the walls. But Leonardo didn’t want to rush his painting. And rush he did not. It took him 3 years while the other fellow who stated painting fresco at the same time, took 3 months to complete his (opposite) side of the wall. Because Leonardo didn’t paint fresco, the paint began to chip off after 20 years and therefore the painting itself was being lost. A lot has been done to restore it. They only allow 30 people to enter the room at one time, and you have to pass through two sets of doors that close behind you to contain you into an ante type room. This is to reduce the amount of humidity that is introduced into the room as it’s the humidity that is destroying the painting.

This is a photo of the photo of the picture painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

This is a photo of the photo of the picture painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Sara went on to explain about the building itself, and again the bombing destroying the wall, and why Leonardo had been asked to paint The Last Supper, and that the Duke had intended for his whole family to be buried in this church. Then Sara went on to explain about The Last Supper painting itself. What a fabulous story about why this scene was painted, about the arrangement of the disciples, about how Leonardo wanted to capture expressions and reactions to Jesus having just told the disciples that one amongst them was going to betray him. The interactions, the poses, the activity that is portrayed in this painting meant nothing to me, I never saw what was actually being depicted, nor did I really understand what The Last Supper was really about, well not this moment of it.

Needless to say I’m thoroughly impressed with Sara’s knowledge and how she explained all of this to us, given English is not her native language.

You’re not allowed to take photos of the painting, but outside they have a large photo of the painting, and you can photograph that.

All the food was "free". Just what they do in Milan when you order a drink after 5pm (and usually before 7pm, this was after 7pm)

All the food was “free”. Just what they do in Milan when you order a drink after 5pm (and usually before 7pm, this was after 7pm)

Once we had completed our tour with Sara, and getting a few recommendations for restaurants, we headed back to the apartment to change. At this point I had been wearing a summer dress with a very light cardigan type top, but with our tour completed and the weather now 30 degrees I wanted to wear cooler clothes.

Enough damage done (on our 2nd shop) to claim tax back.

Enough damage done (on our 2nd shop) to claim tax back.

All changed we headed back to the Ferrari store. We stopped and looked at a child who was in the Ferrari simulator, this is what we imagine Mr Fussy’s simulation at the Ferrari Museum to be. It pretty much looks like a video game, but you’re inside the F1 car. Whether or not you’re changing gears I’m unsure, it didn’t appear to be the case.

Several more items were purchased, enough so that they completed the documentation to claim the tax back. We weren’t really travelling to buy things as such, we have some room in our bags, not a lot, but some, it’s more the weight that is proving to be the concern.

At home we hardly eat out, and we don't eat hamburgers. Everywhere in Europe so far, Hamburgers have been the equivalent of around NZD$40-50. This place the "combo" deal of 2 mini burgers, fries and drink was 10 Euro. And the burgers were pretty tasty really.

At home we hardly eat out, and we don’t eat hamburgers. Everywhere in Europe so far, Hamburgers have been the equivalent of around NZD$40-50. This place the “combo” deal of 2 mini burgers, fries and drink was 10 Euro. And the burgers were pretty tasty really.

Having again returned to the apartment to drop off the new purchases we decided to head to a Kitchen store, then as we were walking past the church I realised that time and knew we didn’t have much time to look inside. It was actually a fairly easy decision to forgo the kitchen shop to visit the inside of the church. There was no queue which was fantastic, but then I realised that my singlet top wouldn’t allow me access to the church. It was close to 6:30pm at the time and the church closes at 7pm. We dashed across the street to the department store hoping I could quickly pick up a t-shirt. The women’s floor was full of designer clothes and none that I wanted, or wanted to pay for in order to get the right type of attire. We went down one floor, found something that I did like, and didn’t mind paying for. The lady took the tags off and I slipped the top on and out the door we went to the church. We arrived only to find the police now preventing any further entry, it was 6:40pm. Had I known it would re-open at 7am the following morning I would have saved the dash to the store for a top and just headed onto the kitchen shop. This all adds to the adventure of travel.

Mr Fussy looking far and wide over the city of Milan. It's a lot bigger than we expected.

Mr Fussy looking far and wide over the city of Milan. It’s a lot bigger than we expected.

Such elaborate work went into the sculpting.

Such elaborate work went into the sculpting.

Since entry into the church was off the agenda for that day and we wouldn’t have time to reach the kitchen shop before it closed, we decided to ascend the stairs to get a closer view of the church. The detail and craftsmanship in the carving of the saints, the gargoyles and arches left me breathless. I didn’t think we had reached as high as we were allowed to go and as we moved around the perimeter we found where you could climb more stairs to reach the top.

Someone was keen to get going.

Someone was keen to get going.

At this point I couldn’t look up as I was walking. It’s Mr Fussy that is adverse to heights, but I, for some reason, have a problem with stairs. My brain either thinks I’m ahead of where I am or something else doesn’t quite compute because I often find myself taking a step that is the wrong distance for the actual step. Needless to say I was very focused on where I was putting my feet. But it gave me a glimpse of how worn some of the stairs were. Some were very sharp edged still and I wondered if perhaps they had been recently (I’m not sure what recent means in these parts though, could be decades) replaced.

When we reached the very top we were restricted in where we could move to. The church is under constant repair and more than half of the top was sectioned off. Up here we really had a much closer view of the sculpting, and a really good view across Milan. It’s much more expansive than what I had expected.

Next up was the 7th floor of the department store to take in a different view of the church. We had very expensive non-alcoholic drinks, but it came with very decent bar snacks. This is normal for many bars in Milan (perhaps it’s a trend that spans further than Milan). You can get a drink and the bar snacks will keep coming. Chiara had also mentioned this in her welcome booklet but we couldn’t quite believe it was the custom. At first Mr Fussy was hesitant thinking that we would be charged if we ate, but I looked it up online while we were sitting there and true enough, it’s norm. So I tucked in at least, Mr Fussy wasn’t so sure the Buffalo mozzarella was his cup of tea, even though he sandwiched it between basil leaves. I thought it was mild in flavour but still nice. Perhaps it was the sensation of chewing that added to his overall experience.

Great colour pallete for decorating cakes and cookies. I'll have the lot!

Great colour pallete for decorating cakes and cookies. I’ll have the lot!

After having taken a few photos of the view, which was directly at a big stained glass window we headed back down and this time to find yet another highly spoken of Gelato shop. We were not disappointed. In fact we’d rate this to be the best of the three places we had stopped at, though only two were highly recommended, the one on Thursday evening we just happened across, though it had the nicest strawberry gelato we’d tried.

We were done. My feet were so sore, I was hopping from one foot to the other prompting Mr Fussy to ask if I was desparate for the toilet. Oh, talking of. When we were in the Ferrari store we’d spotted a very plush red dressing gown. While Mr Fussy was busy trying on a t-shirt I asked the assistant if they were unisex and whether he had a size small. But the assistant didn’t understand what I was asking. I found the dressing gown and he said “Bath Robe”. So there you go, dressing gown does not translate in English well.

I can not describe how large the doors were. I stood back a long way to try and get all of it in the photo.

I can not describe how large the doors were. I stood back a long way to try and get all of it in the photo.

I know this is grotesque, but the skill!

I know this is grotesque, but the skill in carving marble can’t be overlooked.

This morning (it’s now Saturday) we got up extra early so that we could reach the church for when it opened. We were a little late for 7am but it was so nice wandering down there when the streets were so quiet. There also wasn’t a queue, clearly it’s too early for the tourists, or they weren’t on a deadline today like we were. I guess the inside was not as impressive to me as the outside of the church. While there were massive columns and beautiful stain glass windows, the outside really was the more spectacular. But for all that I’m glad we got to see the inside, even though we weren’t permitted to go right into the centre, to where the alter was situated.

We splashed out today and got a taxi to the central train station. It cost less than 10 Euros so not a huge amount of money (though it’s only 3km away). It saved us having to haul two large, heavy suitcases down the stairs at the Metro, having to navigate to changing lines and making sure we were headed in the right direction, and then having to work our way out of the metro to arrive in the main train station.

The very impressive train station. When we arrived I knew I'd be taking some photos before our departure.

The very impressive train station. When we arrived I knew I’d be taking some photos before our departure.

I've walked a long way back to get this much in, and it's not even half of it.

I’ve walked a long way back to get this much in, and it’s not even half of it.

The inside is stunning.

The inside is stunning.

So much detail.

So much detail.

What an impressive building the train station is. I was in awe when we first arrived from Geneva and had said on our way back we’d have to stop so I could get some photos. And so I did. What a grand station.

And now we are seated on the train, travelling to Modena. First class on a regional train is different to first class on an International train. We are in little compartments that seat 6 people. There is a walk way outside. There aren’t any luggage compartments to speak of. Your luggage is placed on large racks above your head. There isn’t enough space for both of our big bags as well as the other travellers. My bag sits outside our compartment, eating into valuable walk way space outside. But there’s no other way.

While we were seated waiting to depart a man poked his head into the compartment and started a very long speech, o

One of many stained glass "stories"

One of many stained glass “stories”

course we could not understand him but one of the others in our compartment explained what he was saying after he’d left. He was explaining that he was trying to get his family on the train but did not have enough money to buy a ticket for all of them. He was asking for money so he could buy the ticket he needed. The other two couples gave money, but since we did not understand the situation we did nothing but look blankly at each other. I did explain I only understood English, so we were excused from providing some monetary assistance.

Our train will make several stops along the way, but after 2 hours we will arrive at Modena, with just a very short 5 minute walk to reach our hotel, the first hotel in Europe.

My final impressions of Milan. I love the city. I wish we had more time here to discover more of the history and notable buildings. It is clean, very few homeless people, the tourists are not too overbearing, and it still has a modern feel to it. I wish we had cut our Paris stint short by a day and used it in Milan. We really only touched on a few things and I know there is more to be discovered, like seeing the man-made canals. I’m pretty sure we’ll return one day. Mr Fussy was equally impressed.

Final little summary of other things I’ve just remembered (we’re in Modena at the mo)

Sara said that when at university you tend to eat out 5 nights a week. She now has a family and lives further out of the city and they don’t eat out.

Cars aren’t generally allowed in the main centre of Milan. There’s a charge you have to pay to have your vehicle in there.

Taxis can’t be hailed, you have to go to an official taxi rank.

One of the gelato places we went to, you had to pay first. A ticket was then given to you and you waited until your number was called.

Talking of tickets, the same is done at the Post Office. You make your selection A, P or C (P being postal) and then you wait until your number is called. The good thing about this system is they provided chairs. So you could sit down rather than have to keep a place in line. Given how fast they work (s l o w), the opportunity to sit is welcomed.

And talking of the post office. When it was finally our turn, I wanted to pay for the postage of one item, and then buy 4 more stamps to all go to the same place. The lady that served us (and I really did feel sorry for people that had to deal with us, I kept thinking that amongst their peers they must be saying how they lucked out getting the English speaking tourists) didn’t speak English, and I’m not sure she really understood it. After I made my request she looked around and spoke (I have no idea), but a young lady came forward and she became our interpreter. What a lovely gesture. She didn’t have to, and I suspect if there was a line no one would be willing to lose their place to help the tourists. We still battled a little bit, the final number of stamps is where things got a little rough, the idea that we wanted 5 in total, one for the item I’d brought to them, and 4 for “later”.

Also, and we found this in Paris, there are different pictures on the same value stamp and they want to know which picture stamp you want. In Paris I deliberately picked the Giraffe. I was sending Yvonne a post card (as I have for every place we’ve visited) and Giraffes are her thing.

The term Espresso (for Coffee) means, as you might imagine, quick. When we went into the Campari Bar the drinks were ordered and paid for, then Sara went to the bar and basically hung onto it while she downed her coffee. We noticed other people milling about the bar drinking then immediately leaving. If you go and sit to drink, then there’s a service fee added.


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Bustling Paris

Second visit, hopefully in perfect health.

Second visit, hopefully in perfect health.

Our train trip to Paris was quite busy with the carriage being mostly full, and full of young adults and families. We had a family from Australia next to us. The lady said she was trying to work out where we were from based on our accent. I picked them easily as Australians, I’m not sure why the Kiwi accent is difficult to pick but there you go.

Road cone of Paris

Road cone of Paris

What to say of Paris. Initially we were quite overwhelmed, and I remember feeling the same our first visit together. Mr Fussy has been to Paris twice before, the first when he was in his mid-20’s on a Contiki tour.

Arriving at Gare du Nord station and your senses are in overload. It’s bright, it’s loud, there are people scattered everywhere, there’s announcements, people moving all around you and you’re trying to navigate your way out of the masses to try and get your bearings and work out what you need to do to get away from the arrivals. Once we moved through the throng of people we easily found where to purchase tickets. Unfortunately we had no small currency on us and needed to use our credit card to purchase the tickets. Our ANZ Visa wouldn’t work so thankfully my Westpac MasterCard did. This is not the first time we’ve tried to purchase in Europe (online in the past) and had our ANZ card not work, and had to fall back onto the Westpac card. With our tickets in hand we had to lug our suitcases down a few flights of stairs to reach the metro line we need. We only had 3 stops to go before arriving at Montmartre and again had to lug our suitcases upstairs in order to reach daylight and the street. Again the sights and sounds were all a bit too much too soon.

Thankfully our SIM cards from the UK picked up the French mobile carrier (that had happened during our train ride to France) and I was able to work out where we were, and which way to travel to get to our rented apartment. The Google map I’d saved showed the metro station a block different to where we exited the metro. And as we’d learn, there are multiple exits from a Metro and they can land you on different sides of the street or intersection. Trying to follow the map and pull a suitcase uphill is no easy task, I think I deserve a medal ;-)

We were meeting Mathilde, who I think is the assistant of Clara, the owner of the apartment. Clara had explained in an earlier message she was too pregnant to meet us but that Mathilde would be there. The number of the apartment building was 8. I found 8 but the code we had been given didn’t work. Thankfully Mathilde had been outside the other number 8 and walked down to check if we were who she was expecting. So, two number 8’s. Who would have thought?

Mathilde showed us around the apartment which was spacious by comparison to our London “ensuite”. We quickly got the lay of the land, started unpacking all our electrical bits and bobs and got thing charging before looking online to where we could find a supermarket, or a Carrefour. I had read on a blog that one of the more common supermarkets (marche) was the Carrefour, sort of on par with the American Walmart. Not that we’re that familiar with a Walmart either J

I’m so looking forward to going into supermarkets in other countries, but I’ve now discovered it’s not all exciting and simple. I grabbed some bananas, we got water and juice easily enough and spent some time using Google Translate to work out the different types of milk. The milk is in big plastic white-ish coloured bottles that are on a shelf, not in a fridge, and the expiry date on them seems longer than we’re accustomed to at home.

Glass jars. How classy. And heavy.

Glass jars. How classy. And heavy.

I wanted yoghurt for my breakfast and again had to navigate my way through lots of different varieties. I didn’t know what myrtille was so steered clear of it, but found some cherry yoghurt instead. I would later learn myrtille is in fact blueberries (my favourite) and would return for that flavour later. Sugar was the last thing to get, we’d not spotted that there was already several opened bags of sugar in the flat.

We made our way to the checkout, it was pretty primitive by comparison to what we have in NZ. Things were going well until we got to the bananas. The best I can tell is we should have had them weighed before getting to the checkout. There was no conveyer belt, there was no weigh scale at the counter. So the bananas were left behind.

Nougat. Not something I'd usually gravitate to, but it was quite nice. Yes, one of those has caramel in it.

Nougat. Not something I’d usually gravitate to, but it was quite nice. Yes, one of those has caramel in it.

After unpacking our things we started to read to read some notes Clara had in a welcome folder and looked for recommendations to eat. Clara had also used Paris by Mouth to fill her folder with ideas and suggestions. There was one place relatively handy to us so we made our way there. They served American and Brittany styled food. That sounded safe for our first night when we were tired and a bit frazzled.

Again I can’t sing the praises of Google maps enough. I don’t know how we would have managed without that application. We could have done it the old fashioned way, but I suspect it would have been harder and longer. Not every building on a corner had the name of the Street/Rue, and given the many entry/exit points at some intersections, it would have added to the confusion.

As we were walking along I was trying to determine how easy and safe it would be to run in the mornings. I didn’t feel comfortable and the narrow streets and lack of parks around didn’t shout great place to exercise. I certainly knew the following morning would not include a run, I still needed time to get the lay of the land.

We arrived at Marcel, the restaurant, and checked if we could get a table. We were told so long as we were gone by 8:30, when the restaurant was fully booked, then we could take a seat. The restaurant was on a corner and on one side there were people smoking so I decided on other side, next to a couple.

Ice cream. One of many highly recommended places on Yelp.

Ice cream. One of many highly recommended places on Yelp.

The tables are so close to each other in Paris and there’s no sense of personal/private space. The couple we were seated next to were Australian although no longer living in Australia. She was a former Moulin Rouge dancer and he was in the fashion industry and had a male partner somewhere, I’m not sure. They were both extraverts and we did get to chatting off and on with them. She had been living in Paris for 14 years, he had just arrived from Hong Kong. Both now in fashion. Basically Mr Fussy and I sat at our table and said nothing to each other. Their conversation was difficult to ignore, and occasionally they would ask us a question, or request an opinion. She was texting some guy about where he could live to avoid taxes, he had to leave London soon because of some impending debt he had. Often she would ask for correct spelling of a word, or the correct word to use. One such time was about the vibrancy of the different locations suggested to move to. She wanted to know whether using the word “bustling” was appropriate. Everyone else agreed it was now a little bit old fashioned and “hip” or “happening” were now more favoured words to use. Having said that, I spotted some recommendations in Clara’s folder that also described the surroundings of different restaurants as bustling. Perhaps in Paris bustling is a perfectly good term to continue to use to describe the atmosphere of a location.

So, bustling it is then.

So, bustling it is then.

We learnt a man’s dress watch should have a leather strap, the guy hadn’t had plastic surgery, but one had IPL done. We heard about a party they were to attend the following night and the discussion they had over meeting with the hostess that evening and the pros and cons of doing so, after all he had to be up early for trading the next day. There were a few questions about how Christchurch is recovering (ha!) and what our travel plans where. Oh, and did I mention that not long after we sat she lit a cigarette. So much for thinking we were going to be safe from second hand smoking.

We did check with them the requirement to pay a tip when dining out. Really it would depend on where we were dining, but paying 1 or 2 Euros would always be welcome unless it was fine dining where a 10% tip would be expected. The guy started to explain where he’d been and what he tipped and she was almost scalding of him saying it was way too much. I think there’s a perception that they don’t want staff receiving larger tips or there would become an expectation. Obviously the locals wouldn’t welcome that.

I can tell you that after listening to their lively discussions we were quite exhausted. When they did leave it was so peaceful. I remarked to Mr Fussy they probably thought we were an odd couple since we didn’t speak to each other. With them on their way we were able to relax a little more. We were happy when our bill arrived (I think she had let them know we were finished, before they headed off themselves), left some coin (too much!) and headed back to the apartment to crawl into bed exhausted both mentally and physically from the day.

And I’ve got a cold. I woke the following day with a very sore throat, barely able to swallow at all. Why is it that I end up sick when in Paris? Today was the big day for me, we were heading to our St Germain food tour. We arrived having used Google Maps to assist our navigation, another family just strolled up. They were from Canada, and our last person to join was from Sydney, she had got lost.

The original candleabra made from bread.

The original candleabra made from bread.

Fresh bread of Poilane with their logo.

Fresh bread of Poilane with their logo.

The food tour was great. We started with a discussion about what a MOF meant and went into the bakery we had met at. Before entering the bakery it was explained that entering into a shop was like entering into someone’s home. You don’t just walk in and not say hello. To do so is considered rude. Likewise you don’t leave without saying goodbye. So bonjour and Au revoir were terms we quickly came to feel more at ease with, though I continued to feel like a fake when saying both, and I know the emphasis was still not put in the right place.

The bakery we were outside of was the best of the best in terms of bakeries, having earned a MOF. Bread is baked in the morning, underground around the corner. Most baguettes in France have a shelf life of 5 hours. Bakeries have a second batch of baguettes baked and ready for sale at the end of the business day. You don’t want to be buying your bread midday when it’s not far from being stale. However this bakery (which provides all Paris restaurants) has something in their bread that makes it last (not preservatives). You can also buy a single slice of bread there. We had a sort of shortbread cookie during our visit and were told they had the best Chocolat au Pain (I never bought one, wish I had). This bakery makes all their bread by hand, and given they serve the Paris restaurants, that’s a lot of manual labour. You can also have their bread delivered overseas.

Sculpted out of chocolate.

Sculpted out of chocolate.

Some of the 100 varieties of chocolates

Some of the 100 varieties of chocolates

In every type of every %

In every type of every %

Dianne explained that at a restaurant when served bread you would not automatically be served it with bread. In France the bread is used to mop up a plate, not to eat separately.

Following on from the Poilane Bakery was the chocolate boutique of Patrick Roger (you don’t pronounce it Roger like we do, it’s sounded out as Ro jeer). You have to pay a very large sum to participate in some yearly competition where it’s possible to be awarded a MOF. The first time Patrick Roger entered he was unsuccessful, but the second time he came away with a MOF. Apparently a MOF is not always awarded each year, and some years there could be several awarded.

Patrick Roger is also a sculpture as well as a chocolatier. His boutique has both chocolate and metal sculptures. Dianne explained that each morning he eats one of each of his 100 chocolates that is made, beginning each day with a praline chocolate.

I had it on my plan to visit Patrick Roger so I was really happy that we’d been guided here rather than having to find our own way.

(We’ve just stopped at Lausanne to pick up more passengers. This trip is going to be very noisy, the first class wagon is all but full and it seems the Italians are in fine voice).

They leave the heads on to sell the chickens, but the butcher will cut it off for you.

They leave the heads on to sell the chickens, but the butcher will cut it off for you.

Fruit sold at the market.

Fruit sold at the market.

Export quality New Zealand Kiwifruit, like nothing we see at home.

Export quality New Zealand Kiwifruit, like nothing we see at home.

Next stop was the under covered market. The covering of the market was to keep the cholera from spreading back in the olden days. Dianne, our guide (hails from California, of Thai parents) had explained that when it comes to buying produce, if the bags are up high then it means the owner will pick the fruit/veg, only if the bags are at waist height is it expected that you’ll serve yourself. Even though you should not touch the fruit/veg, you are allowed to point out the pieces/items that you want. The fruit was very large by comparison to what we see at home. The pineapple was really big and I couldn’t believe how large the Kiwifruit from New Zealand was. I’ve never seen Kiwifruit so large before, I couldn’t even believe it when it was pointed out to me that it was indeed from New Zealand.

We moved onto cheeses and had a very nice 27 month old compte cheese. It was sweet, but it was so good. I wish Dianne had been able to get some of that cheese for us to sample. Dianne explained the lady, Tilly, would tell you if the cheese was bad and should not be purchased. And that she had gone to one cheesemonger and basically got on her knees and begged to be allowed to sell his cheese. He agreed and now she is the only cheesemonger in Paris to supply his cheese. The cheeses that we had to sample came from so many different parts of France.

We headed outside and down a small lane to a winery. Here we went into the back room and the cheese was brought out and ready to serve alongside a sample of both red and white wine. The family from Canada requested some grape juice for their sons and so I also had some. It was very nice grape juice indeed, much nicer than the small sip of the white wine I had.

2014-07-04 13.07.48 - Copy 2014-07-04 12.05.34As for those cheeses, our napkins were looking pretty full of discarded cheeses. It’s fair to say we don’t have a very refined palate when it comes to some of the finest of cheeses. We much preferred the hard cheese that was handed around. Some of the soft cheese was so soft that it was oozing off the slices of bread, it was almost runny. One of the cheeses had a coating of ash, which was left on. It certainly added to that aged/mouldy flavour. Dianne said one cheesemonger actually puts a straw in the middle of his cheese to pour ash into it. The ash helps to encourage the bacteria which acts as a preservative.

Fruit jellies

Fruit jellies

So many different flavoured caramels. We came back and bought a selection.

So many different flavoured caramels. We came back and bought a selection.

Having had our fill of cheese our next stop a few steps away was Henri Le Roux, the father of Salted Butter Caramel (SBC as you’ll see it written everywhere). His SBC caramels have a very fine chopped nut. I can’t now remember if it’s walnut, almond or hazelnut. What I was really surprised by was how mild the salt was, in fact I’d go so far as to say I could not detect the salt in the caramel. That leaves me wondering just how far we’ve wandered from what the “father” actually intended the caramel to be. I presume he adds nuts to his to make them different to all those that have copied the trend.

Talking of sweet things. Dianne was explaining to us that when chefs get into smack talk, the biggest insult is to accuse them of using sugar to provide flavour. The French don’t use a lot of sugar, opting for the true flavour of the food to speak. Goodness, lucky I don’t know anyone French, my kitchen oozes sugar, but it’s what I like, not that I’m trying to encourage a flavour that is unwilling to present itself.

Cream puffs, as they're known to us.

Cream puffs, as they’re known to us.

Our last stop was another recipient of a MOF. This as a pastry shop. The pastry is what we’d be more used to as a cream puff. These cream puffs are made around the corner and walked over at different times of the day (I can’t remember the frequency, but it was pretty frequent, like hourly). They are only filled when an order is placed. The day we arrived they also had caramel, though it wasn’t on the board. Dianne explained they are still refining the recipe for the caramel filling and that’s why they don’t yet advertise it. They have Chocolate, Vanilla and again my memory is failing me. I’m certain there was a third regular flavour, but even Mr Fussy can’t remember that far back.

Our tour ended here. Dianne seemed to really prolong her wind up continually thanking us for being so nice, and for being polite, and for asking different merchants at the under covered market if we could take photos. I wasn’t sure if she kept repeating these words waiting for us to offer a tip. The Paris by Mouth site said it wasn’t a requirement but you could tip if you wanted.

Ahh, the other thing that I learnt was that Dianne knows David Lebovitz and he’s requested from her numerous times to come and cook him a Thai meal. I had read in David’s recent post when touring America and Canada to promote his new book, that he was on the look out for good Thai restaurants to dine at.

The streets we had been wandering during the tour were windy and narrow and I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to each we walked. But after the tour I wanted to return to Henri Le Roux’s store to buy more caramels. We eventually found our way there. We left with numerous different flavoured caramels (and some that I didn’t like after having them, a chocolate caramel is lost on me) and were sort of talked into trying a passionfruit and banana sorbet. We really didn’t need a lot of encouragement to try ;-)  Mr Fussy and I hovered under a doorway eating the sorbet while it continued to rain.

The rain would be constant during our trip to Paris. It really put a dampener on things, literally.

Since the rest of the day was unplanned we just wandered a bit and eventually made our way to Galleries Lafayette. Wow. I don’t know who buys where but you’ve got to have deep pockets. While we were in Paris it was the beginning of one of their two annual sales. The government stipulates when you can have a sale, so it’s city-wide. They happen in January and in July, well it started the end of June and goes through to the end of July. Even at sale prices I wasn’t buying a thing. The department store is full of designer labels. There’s no conservative shopping there, it’s all bling bling.

I was on the look out for a pair of sandals. And while some brands of footwear seemed less likely to cause a heart attack, sandals were hard to spot. It made me think that all the summer shopping had been and gone.

Another item of clothing I expected to find easily was tank tops or t-shirts. I wanted to get a short sleeved shirt too, something I could put on over a singlet type top, but leave open, so that I was suitable dressed when I went to a church or other important building where women are required to have their shoulders covered. Of course I was expecting the weather to be warm where I’d be dressed in t-shirts or singlet type tops. So far it’s anything but (on our way to Milan at the moment and there’s a promise that the temperatures will be in the high 20’s). I had spotted something I wanted to try on. I had no idea how the sizing worked. There were three sets of sizes. Europe, France and American.  I was clueless. In the end an assistant asked if she could help and I tried to explain I didn’t understand how the sizing worked. This slim beauty told me her size and that was the end of that conversation. Needless to say I put the item back and moved on.

The inside of Galleries Lafayette.

The inside of Galleries Lafayette.

Having felt completely out of place at Galleries Lafayette we got on a train and headed into the Concorde metro. When we surfaced it was a relief. I almost felt human. We were amongst lot of tourists now. That may seem odd to feel such a sense of relief just to be among other tourists, but it meant restaurants and shops around would be expecting non-French speaking people.

Let me stop and tell you a little about our experiences on the metro, the French suburban train line. It was while we were trying to buy tickets that we encountered our first pick pocket of sorts. A little girl came up to us and starting to poke her hand into the slot where the tickets, and change, are dispensed. At first I was a bit confused, or just slow to cotton on to what was going on. I realised she had every intention of taking the change. I looked around trying to see if her mother or an accompanying adult was with her as I wanted to remove her hands and didn’t want to be accused of mistreating her. Eventually I got her hands out of the area the tickets and money is dispensed only for her to start playing with the roller (which you use like a mouse to hover over your select to then press with your finger). So she was becoming quite the nuisance. Thankfully our transaction was completed without her fiddling about interfering with our purchase. As I walked away I looked back and saw one other woman explaining to a tourist what the little girl was trying to do.

The next incident occurred as we were walking through the Concorde heading towards side streets where we hoped to find a place for dinner. Three teenagers approached us with clipboards and a piece of paper with a logo for some handicapped/disabled association. They asked first if we were English, which seemed to make them happier to see us (I should have seen the warning signs, Mr Fussy did). One was trying to encourage Mr Fussy to write his name and address on the form. He insisted in knowing what they would do with that information. I had a young man thrust the clipboard in front of me and ask me to sign. I looked at the logo and could see it was for a good cause. I asked if it was a petition and would the information be going to the government. He nodded fervently. Meanwhile Mr Fussy continued to repeat his question over and over and got no suitable explanation, even I tried to show him what the organisation was for. He wasn’t budging. Anyway, no sooner had I written my name and “address”, which I only put down as New Zealand, because at this stage I was starting to wonder if there was something in Mr Fussy’s reluctance. Then the young name moved his hand from the next column which was where you entered the amount of money you were donating. Then I had the flashbulb moment. I think I might have even shrieked at this point that they wanted money. I said very loudly no, pushed the board away and both Mr Fussy and myself walked off. In hindsight I now see that the piece of paper was photocopied, the logo could have been copied from anything. I suspect it wasn’t at all genuine and just a clever way to get people’s loose change. Probably the money would never see/reach the organisation for which they were apparently representing.

Beauty around every corner, even when you don't expect it.

Beauty around every corner, even when you don’t expect it.

Oops I seem to have got side-tracked with the little criminals and not carried on with some of the experiences we had on the Metro. We had lots and lots of homeless people on the trains. Some would make an announcement, a long announcement. I’m not sure if I’m glad I couldn’t understand the language at this point. One woman had a dog with her, a very nice, gentle dog, but he was huge. You wonder how they manage to feed their pets when they’re begging for food themselves. There were beggars everywhere underground. That seemed odd to me because at some point they had to get into the underground which required them to purchase a ticket. I suppose they might have snuck in some other way. Then there were others that played music. I guess it was busking of sorts. One young man was playing something that I didn’t recognise but could only say it was played similar to a clarinet but it wasn’t tubular, it was plastic and sort of squashed flat to be a rectangle. Sadly that music was not pleasant. It sort of resembled a piano accordion (which I don’t actually mind) in sound. When we made a stop the young man walked off to another carriage and he was replaced with a man playing a saxophone. He bought his own amplifier with some background accompaniment. He was good and I enjoyed listening to him play as we continued on with our journey.

Other times when we’ve been waiting for a train it would arrive and be so full. We would step back from the platform and wait for the next train. But the obvious crowding didn’t deter everyone. People still pushed and squashed themselves into already crammed carriages. We’d been on a carriage that started out being comfortable and quickly filling up as we stopped at each station, to the point you were pressed against each other. This caused a bit of anxiety when you knew your stop was next and there appeared to be no sign of a mass exodus. The trains didn’t stop any longer than it seemed necessary. And sometimes people were still trying to scramble on when the loud sound warning the doors were about to close was heard. Crazy times.

As I’ve mentioned, we’re no on our way to Milan, and while in Geneva we had a negative experience which has made me question just how much like tourists we look like. It seems we stick out like sore thumbs. We’re certainly receiving some unwanted attention.

Finding a place to eat wasn’t easy. Again we were looking hard at menus to find the English interpretation. Those that didn’t provide an interpretation were dismissed and we carried on. We walked a very long time never finding anything that appealed, or wasn’t overpriced (we had seen enough to know what we were comparing to). In the end we settled for a filled roll, and I’m not talking your average New Zealand soft roll with some salad thrown in and drowned with dressing. This is like a ciabatta with chicken and thick rounds of cheese which is then toasted like you’d expect of a Panini. It was long, which was good because it was going to feed both of us. We should have asked them to cut it, but we already felt like we were clumsy and taking more time to serve that we didn’t dare ask for anything unexpected. So we took turns taking bites which was unfortunate because I had a cold and Mr Fussy did not. I didn’t want to increase his chances of coming down with whatever it was I had.

We had one more day before properly playing the tourist game and going to museums and other notable buildings. First stop was to the place we needed to collect the Paris Passes from. From there we wandered around aimlessly but finding some nice buildings to stop and look at. We wandered around Notre Dame and went further than we had wandered our previous visit. We were even stopped and asked for directions by other tourists and able to help them out. I used the Yelp application on my phone to find a good ice cream shop and also Café Breziah which had been recommended by Paris by Mouth, David Lebovitz and written about in the folder Clara had in her apartment.

The Parisians seem to like to add egg to many things.

The Parisians seem to like to add egg to many things.

When we got to the café there were no tables available and the person looking after seating indicated it would be around 5 minutes. He came back and handed us a menu at one point. But then he returned again and said to go up the street, there was a place there. I was really surprised, well shocked is more like it. I thought he had just scooted us out of his café and told us there was another café up the street that we should try. We stopped in the street discussing what we thought had just happened when I saw one of the café workers walk into that next shop with plates of food. Now I got it. The next store was a part of the café, but was dedicated to selling their cider and butters. Feeling slightly silly now we took our seats at the communal table and placed an order. I chose a savour crepe (galette – made with buckwheat) and Mr Fussy a sweet. We weren’t overly hungry or ready for dinner, but I knew this was a very popular place and to get a seat without a reservation was a bit of a happy coincidence so I wasn’t going to turn it down. The crepe was definitely better than the ones we had at the Granville Island Market for breakfast, but I wouldn’t have said it was so good it was worthy of such rave reviews. Maybe we just don’t really appreciate the best of the best. Maybe we’re both fussy ;-)

Mr Fussy's sweet crepe.

Mr Fussy’s sweet crepe.

Sunday arrived and it was time to put on our tourist face, okay, so apparently we scream tourist.

The beautiful white domed church sitting on top of the hill I missed seeing on our first trip.

The beautiful white domed church sitting on top of the hill I missed seeing on our first trip.

One of the places I had wanted to see on our first trip to Paris was the Sacre Coeur. It’s a big church on top of Montmartre. It was only 7 or so minutes walk from our apartment. No excuses this time for not being able to reach it in the time we had.

Beggars were there at the church too. You can’t blame them for flocking to places where they expect to see lots of tourists.

Have you seen the YouTube clip of the piano that just turned up at St Pancras train station with a sign saying Play Me? There’s a clip showing a guy who did sit down to play, and he was very good. Anyway down the stairs, away from the church, is a lookout point (we are at the highest point on the hill) and a piano with a sign to Play Me was sitting there. I might add that it was drizzling, and given the poor weather of that week I don’t really know what the condition of the piano would be like. A man started to play. He wasn’t as good as the YouTube clip but it was still nice to hear the piano being played.

The church was definitely worth the stop and I could finally tick that off my list of places I had wanted to see.

Our first museum stop was the Museum Odyssey. It was raining (of course) and we were very smug with our Paris Passes being able to “skip the line”. I did feel bad for others having to wait in the rain. As is typical, your bag is searched, or at the minimum patted down, to ensure you don’t have anything that should be confiscated.

A rare glimpse of blue skies. Taken from top of the Observation deck.

A rare glimpse of blue skies. Taken from top of the Observation deck.

I chose to get the audio contraption. Some of the pieces of art had a number with the universal symbol for audio (like the Wi-Fi sign) and you would enter the number onto the keypad, press the start button and away the audio would go. There were so many floors and so many little rooms. It was impossible to see everything there, well not in the time we had. Many many of the paintings were of nudes. I know it was of the period but I wondered with today’s day and age, those with families of younger children, just how they explained what the children would see. A woman’s body has been objectified so much it’s hard to know what little minds would make of seeing the art.

We moved onto the Museum de l’Orangerie. This was much smaller but still had some impressive pieces of art and of course the works of Monet.

We eventually made our way to the Chocolate Museum. I was really looking forward to what had been described to us as a demonstration. However it was a video and not nearly as exciting as watching a chocolatier in action. Nevertheless the museum was interesting and well worth a look.

I kept using Google Maps to look for other museums that were in close proximity. We found the one for Transport and headed that way. The museum was closing in 45 minutes but we still managed to get a look at a good portion of the displays on show.

It was another tiring day of constant walking and being on our feet. We didn’t feel like ambling about in the main area of Paris looking for somewhere to eat, in fact we’d have gone without dinner rather than trudge around looking for places, but as we were walking up the street to reach ours we spotted a Pizza restaurant. At this stage we’d not had Pizza, so why not.

This  is described as "with salad"

This is described as “with salad”

I remember reading in a blog post David Lebovitz had that there are no doggy bags in Paris. If you don’t finish your mean don’t expect it to be packaged up for you to take home. The reason I’m sharing this is that we each ordered a Pizza. We had no idea the size of the pizza, but I can tell you these were LARGE. There was no way we’d be able to finish these. And had we known the size, we’d have ordered just the one and shared it. So a lot of pizza got thrown out that night. Or maybe it gets given to someone more needy.

Monday arrived and we were prepared to take the tourist thing a bit more casual. We had seen most of the main places we had wanted to see and if we didn’t get a chance to catch others then we were comfortable with that. Our fascination for Paris had waned a lot and in some ways I was just biding time before leaving.

We did have one place that was firmly on our list though, and that was the Observation deck of the tallest building. Even though we arrived quite early there was already a queue. It only takes I think 33 seconds to reach the top floor for the lift, the 53rd floor. From here you can walk the remaining floors to exit onto the roof. What a great view you get.

After descending we had a poke around the shopping mall. I was trying to see if I could get a light shirt that I could wear over the top of singlet tops that would allow me to both keep cool and be allowed into churches.

I’ve got to say the Parisians don’t rush anything. Ahead of me in the queue to pay was a lady who was trying to return something, and another lady. I actually thought they were together but they weren’t. This whole exchange thing taking place in front of us ended up being some communal activity. At home if I have to return something I actually feel guilty or anxious about it, but this was a long drawn out activity and no one was concerned who overheard it, or how long they were taking to complete the transaction. Finally my time came. I never know if the person I’m facing will understand English, and I certainly don’t count on it. I don’t think she really did, but the transaction was so simple that it didn’t matter.

Happy with this find.

Happy with this find.

Big enough? I'd say so.

Big enough? I’d say so.

I had looked up kitchen stores and had a couple in mind to visit if we had time. What I’ve been specifically interested in is the range and cost of items available to me, either locally in stores or online around the world.  A good judge of price is a KitchenAid. I can tell you that Paris is expensive and it’s very difficult to find cake decorating supplies. And when you do, they are expensive. However, I found a store (apparently chefs from around the world travel to it) that certainly had a very extensive range. They had the Eiffel Tower cookie cutter in a range of sizes. I picked up a large, but it was really only the middle size. I also found more tart rings, small enough for making individual tarts. They had them in so many sizes. Mr Fussy bought me a tart ring at Christmas, we had to order it in, and it was expensive to begin with. So finding these smaller ones for 4 Euro each, to me was a bargain.

The last thing we did was really last minute. I decided that we should really make use of the Hop on Hop off ticket we had. We headed to the Louvre where we remembered the bus having stopped our last time. We had been trying to see where the bus stops were so that we could use the tickets earlier but while we saw lots of the busses, we could never spot the stop. We soon found out though that our Paris Pass card was not the right thing to gain entry. We had to show the pass at their office and in exchange get a ticket. The office was not too far away, and though it was after 6pm we thought we’d chance it. To our surprise the office was open and the bus tours were continuing until 9pm. This was a good way for us to see the other attractions. We ended up on the bus for almost the entire route, and got to see parts of Paris that we’d been walking. For 9 stops it takes over 2 hours to complete. I thought we were doing really well for time until we hit the Champs Elysees.  I reckon it took over 30 minutes to travel up to the Arc de Triumph. I recall our first trip that we got off at a stop before reaching the Arch de Triumph but this time the bus went all the way around. The audio said there was a myth that you couldn’t get insurance if you travelled on the roundabout, but in actual fact if there was an accident each parties own insurance company would just settle for their customer and no one tried to point the blame at the other involved. It was simpler this way. And I can see it would be.

Hard to miss the Eiffel Tower on the skyline.

Hard to miss the Eiffel Tower on the skyline.

Once the bus had reached the Eiffel Tower we got off and made our way to the Metro. We needed to swap lines part way in order to get onto our M4 line for home. Again we were so tired having been on the go all day and we couldn’t be bothered with sitting down ordering dinner. We had to stop at the grocery store to get more yoghurt and water so we grabbed a couple of bags of chippies and that was dinner for the night.

Tuesday was leaving day and thankfully we’d scoped out our way to Gare de Lyon on the Monday morning before we set out to the Observation tower. We knew part of the journey would require us to pick up our suitcases to swap to different lines and that some of the trip in the station included stairs as well. We left with plenty of time to get lost and find our way again, and we knew that we had access to the Train’s First Class lounge so we could sit comfortably for a while if we were too early.

Too early we were. Some parts of the station that we had seen escalators for that would save us some stairs were under repair. The service person could see the look on our face and he would smile, not in a nasty way. We did arrive with too much time, and it took 3 attempts to ask for directions to the Salon Grande Voyager before we found it. In fact we spent so much time looking for it that it would be almost a waste of time to make use of the facilities. The last time I asked for directions the lady at Information just said “downstairs”. I was very frustrated by this time and I implored her to be a little more specific than “downstairs”. So she replied, downstairs straight in front.

Mr Fussy went down because I wasn’t prepared to drag suitcases one an impossible mission. All the maps we’d looked at that laid out the floor plan were incorrect. We would go to the place that was indicated but it was nothing. In the end, after a bit of wandering about Mr Fussy came across the first public signage for the lounge.

We made our way to it. There were two girls at the reception desk and a courier had just arrived. I guess this is typical, but they sat chatting with the guy having a laugh and catch up before they bothered to look at us to assist. What a cushy job they have. The lounge is nothing like I had expected. The only difference between the lounge and the main station was there was a chance of getting your own seat, and it was comfortable. There was a water tank and a snack type dispenser that was used to order a hot drink. There were towers that you could plug electronics into and some magazines. But that my friends is what first class provides.

The most expensive meal ever. About NZD$35 for this single sausage with some cheesy mash.

The most expensive meal ever. About NZD$35 for this single sausage with some cheesy mash.

I was very glad to be leaving Paris. We won’t be back, ever. Our first trip felt rushed, and with both of us being sick we didn’t have the energy to rush from one attraction/museum to the next. This trip was to take the tourist thing at a more leisurely pace, and to finish off what we had started. We achieved this, but I’d say we had one day too many.

One of my work colleagues had commented to me that Paris was dirty. I disagreed at the time but I wholeheartedly agree now. The metro smells of urine. Most of the stations we were in and out of (and we used a number of lines to get in and around) were filthy once you’d reached the platform. There are lots of homeless people, you’re constantly on your guard as to where your belongings are. The buildings for all their notability are blackened by pollution. The place is crowded and you’re constantly on and off the footpath to make room for people. The Paris I thought I was returning to left me feeling very unsettled and the gloss had certainly gone. I really found myself wanting our stay to end.

It probably also wasn’t helped that I got 3 nasty bits from what I assume to be a bug and a cold. My nose wouldn’t stop running and my throat hurt. It seems I’m destined to come down with some illness while in Paris.

When we first got onto the train we asked if we were in the right carriage. The attendant didn’t speak English but one of the others did. He confirmed we were in the right place and during the trip he would joke with us a couple of times. I began to relax thinking Geneva would be a place with friendly people with a sense of humour, just like the gentleman that was looking after our car. When we got on the train our allocated seats were awful. I guess even in first class someone has to have the least desirable seats. We had side by side seats, but the window seat was right where the pillar was and there was practically no view at all, plus we were facing the wrong way. When we set off he came to hand out newspapers, he didn’t have an English one with him but after a short while he returned with an International newspaper. Mr Fussy had already indicated to him that it wasn’t necessary to find him a newspaper, but it was nice that he took the time to accommodate us.

You know, more caramel. No surprise there.

You know, more caramel. No surprise there.

Apart from not really finding the food service to our liking, the trip was good and we were quite excited to be heading to Geneva. This next section took the longest for us to decide on. We had a long discussion about whether to go to Zurich or Geneva. My brother had given us some details about the train rides in and out, and while Geneva didn’t have the same views to Italy as Zurich, we decided that with it being more International, Geneva was the better choice. And we were closing in.


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The value of 50 quid

There will likely be a couple of posts originating from the UK. This one is of our first drop into the UK, London.

I have so many photos I’d like to share. I generally try to add photos to match the narrative, but with so many, I may just plonk them in willy nilly.

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Amazing wonders await us.

9 hours on a plane is slightly less annoying than 11 hours, but it’s still tough. This time I got the aisle seat and Mark was stuck with a rather tall man (read long legs and will spread himself out) next to him encroaching into his space.

Just like the first time, the second time we went through customs we just breezed through the “nothing to declare” gate. There was no one on it. Really UK, you are terribly slack. In NZ you’re asked numerous questions at the “nothing to declare” gate, they test to see if you want to change your mind, that you truly don’t have anything on you or in your luggage that is disallowed.

Margaret and John were at the airport to meet us. Given it takes 2 hours from Chester to London by train (and the airport is probably another 30-40 minutes by train), coming to meet us is no trivial thing and we so appreciate they offered to do this.

Mr Fussy and I were pretty tired. We had about as much sleep as the flight to Vancouver (not enough! – about 4 hours in pockets of about 40-60 minutes) and we were pretty tired and not very talkative.

John navigated from the Hammersmith station to our accommodation which was great, it saved me having to try to figure it out with only half my brain functioning. We arrived at our first AirBnB place. The photos were accurate, but they didn’t really show how small the place was. I was expecting a kitchen and laundry area and we had a room just big enough for the queen bed (we had to step over the corner of the bed because our luggage was jammed in the only available space big enough) and a funny little room that had a modern shower on one side and the toilet on the other. Basically this was a room in the house (3 levels). So the door you enter into lands you directly in the middle of the ensuite and you take two steps through this to now be in the bedroom, and you’re right at the foot of the bed, side shuffling to get around it. We did have a little fridge. It was in a cupboard above the bed and entirely impractical. Still Mr Fussy somehow managed to feel his way to placing a bottle of water in there.

John and Margaret handed over SIM cards and were on their way to have a quick catch up with Anna, James and Chloe before returning to Chester. They had been on the go since 9am that morning. I suspect they didn’t get home until some 12 hours later. Their day must have left them just as drained as ours.

Now that we had mobile data getting around would be so much easier (well getting out of trouble if we got lost). Our first stop was to the nearest Superdrug. Love that place, or at least I thought I did. Funny how when we were last here it was my favourite place and I haven’t really stopped singing its praises in that time. Our visit this time left me feeling a bit meh about it. Still has everything you need for cheaper than you’ll find it in NZ but it’s somehow lost that sparkle. Perhaps I’ve realised that it’s not quite as “super” as I thought it was. You still can’t beat it for getting travel sized items, and I’ll be buying a good few of those before leaving the UK. Saves a lot of mucking about at home squeezing some of this and a little of that into travel sized containers. Since Superdrug was our first place to purchase anything it was the first place we pulled out a 50 note. The guy looked at us like we were crazy, then produced a funny pen (like the ones you used to scribble over a page and a grey outline would appear, like it was invisible until the ink hit it) and draw all over the note. He explained to us that there were counterfeit 50 notes. We were a little worried since that’s the smallest denomination we got from the bank (other than the money we had left from our first trip). We moved on to the supermarket. We picked up some more fresh fruit and water and wound our way to a local pub that had been thoroughly recommended in our little visitors pack. We had no idea you should book a table so were lucky they could squeeze us in. Every table had a reservation.

A piece of lamb of massive proportions.

A piece of lamb of massive proportions.

Mr Fussy looking forward to his first Ale in the UK. Notice the "Happiness" sign behind him.

Mr Fussy looking forward to his first Ale in the UK. Notice the “Happiness” sign behind him.

We hadn’t had the breakfast offered on the plane (which would have coincided with lunch in the UK) so we were a little peckish, but I wasn’t this hungry! Look at the size of my dinner. It was a half shoulder of lamb. Wow. In my sleep deprived state I just stared at it not knowing what I was doing. A good half of that piece of lamb came home with us. I would save it up and then make lamb sandwiches for one of the days we were sightseeing.

Love the craftsmanship.

Love the craftsmanship.

First thing on Tuesday (we’re still feeling somewhat sluggish) I got up and went for a run. I ran along the Thames River. It was a reasonably simple run as far as getting there and back, but I would soon realise just how hard the pavement was on my legs. They started to hurt almost the minute I stopped running.

Mr Fussy and I headed off to meet up with Anna, James and Chloe. What a stunner of a day it turned out to be. We were so warm walking from the station to their home. Then we wandered off to the local pub and had a very pleasant lunch outside.

Loved seeing splashes of colour into what was often a wall of grey. Somewhere in some park in London.

Loved seeing splashes of colour into what was often a wall of grey. Somewhere in some park in London.

Next up was to find a tube that would take us to where one of the Hop on Hop off stops was. We ended up at Hyde Park Corner. I picked this because it was handy to Harrods and from there we would walk to Peggy Porchen and wander onto Buckingham Palace. However there’s a stop on both sides of the (very wide) street and I hadn’t factored that in. The bus we got ended up taking us away from Harrods, not close to it. Once I realised which direction we were headed plan were changed and we remained on the bus making the other two destinations something for Wednesday.

Mr Roster, I have no idea what he symbolises, was seen during our bus tour at Pall Mall.

Mr Roster, I have no idea what he symbolises, was seen during our bus tour at Pall Mall.

Close to 5pm we got off the bus, headed back to the apartment (shoe box), changed clothes and headed back into the city for The Lion King show. We had a little bit of time to spare, but not enough to have dinner.  A quick fruit salad and cookie and that was our impromptu dinner. The Lion King is the most physical show I’ve seen, and the characters aren’t limited to only the stage. Mr Fussy has never seen The Lion King movie and didn’t really care for the story or music, but he was impressed with the show.

The Lion King show at Lyceum Theatre. If you get a chance to see this show, do it. You'll thank me.

The Lion King show at Lyceum Theatre. If you get a chance to see this show, do it. You’ll thank me.

The show finished sooner than I thought which was a good thing. We had just enough time to grab some KFC as they were packing up. Who would have though having KFC on a bench on the side of the road at 11pm would be something to write about, but that was us, and now I’m sharing the experience. Crazy to be going to be having only just eaten. We don’t really care at all for KFC, but it was something safe to have in a place we weren’t familiar with.

This is the beginning of a week long love affair with all things caramel being ordered.

This is the beginning of a week long love affair with all things caramel being ordered.

Mr Fussy attempting to get his daily intake of fresh fruit.

Mr Fussy attempting to get his daily intake of fresh fruit.

Mr Fussy's second stop at the Creperie. This breakfast looks very much like dessert. What the heck.

Mr Fussy’s second stop at the Creperie. This breakfast looks very much like dessert. What the heck.

Wednesday we had crepes for breakfast (and again on Thursday) before heading out for the day. We took the train to Knightsbridge and popped up from the Metro right next to Harrods. Naturally my first stop was the food centre. I’m sure it has a much flasher name than that. Having taken several photos and ooh’d and ahh’d we moved onto the souvenir department. We picked up a new oven mit and an apron for us both. I went to pay for the purchases with a 50 note that was left over from our first trip and the lady explained these 50 were no longer in use as of April that year. She recommended we swap it at the Harrods bank, which we did. Gosh 50 notes were proving to be a pain in one way or another.

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Too many beautiful things.

Too many beautiful things.

Having picked up a couple of cookie cutters we were on our way to track down Peggy Porachen’s place. It wasn’t a huge walk, and in getting there we came across Pierre Herme store. Mr Fussy got a chocolate and I got two Macarons. Everything was nicely packaged up and then we were on our way (without photos because that wasn’t allowed) off down the street. I should add that it was another hot day out, so with all this wandering about we were starting to cook a little. I was feeling a little overdressed. Belgravia is quite the post sort of spot really. Lots of fancy shops and lots of fast cars. Mr Fussy was very happy to have spotted one of his favourite sports cars outside Pierre Herme store. He’s got a few photos. And he was hearing fast cars everywhere.

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No photos were allowed inside.

No photos were allowed inside.

We finally made it to Peggy Porchen’s shop. Mr Fussy had a Strawberry Champagne cupcake, I had a lemon layered cake. They were beautifully packaged up, and did I want a carry bag? Yes please!

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At Peggy Prochen for some lovely treats. Well, more treats.

At Peggy Prochen for some lovely treats. Well, more treats.

During our walk we’d come across a number of small parks and had agreed that given the built up area of London, they had lots of parks around them to give them a sense of outdoor living. But do you think we could find one to park ourselves at to make up the lamb sandwiches (well buns, we bought buns at Harrods)? No. We came across private gardens, those where you needed a key to get into them. So I Googled to see where the next park was. One was found, it said it was open 24 hours. I took that to mean it was a public garden, but having arrived there we found a sign out front asking if memberships had been renewed. We gave up looking and decided to just walk to Hyde Park. We were sweltering by this stage, tired of walking and getting impatient for lunch. The chocolate and icing on the cupcake and cakes hadn’t fared well with the heat. Needless to say the two macarons I got didn’t travel well in my backpack either, they’re looking a bit second hand.  The park however was lovely and I wished we’d known much sooner just how wonderful it was. I couldn’t believe the number of runners at that time of day, in peak heat. I guess you do what you’ve got to do. I was still grumbling about how sore my legs felt after my run along the river.

The heat of the day didn't do the chocolate any favours, and the macaron squashed in my pack looked less than perfect.

The heat of the day didn’t do the chocolate any favours, and the macaron squashed in my pack looked less than perfect.

Beautifully presented and fabulous flavours and taste.

Beautifully presented and fabulous flavours and taste.

After lunch we made our way through the park and onto Wellington Arch. We went up the top and took some photos looking back across the park, and some photos of the New Zealand War Memorial. From there we continued to walk to Buckingham Palace. I was quite in need of a toilet and wondered if the Queen would mind if I made use of her facilities. Mr Fussy was less certain I’d be welcome. After finding out the souvenir shop didn’t have toilets, and spotting the Hop on Hop off bus parked up right outside, I spoke loudly to Mr Fussy who was having a little sit down, that we should get on the bus. One employee was outside and nodded us on. We went upstairs again and were surprised we had the bus to ourselves. As we started out I was having trouble working out which route we were on. There are numerous coloured routes. I couldn’t seem to make any sense of any of them. Then I spotted Euston Station and figured out we had to be on the purple bus, it was the only one that went that way. We decided it must not be a popular bus route to take since we still hadn’t had anyone else get on the bus. The narration had changed to music which wasn’t unusual, but there’d been no narration for some time. After a while, and while sitting at lights, the driver (we didn’t realise that at the time) came upstairs and told us that the bus was returning to the depot and was not in service. He dropped us at a place we could easily get to a stop the blue bus would be at in 10 minutes.

The size of the arch can't be appreciated from photos alone.

The size of the arch can’t be appreciated from photos alone.

Looking back across to Hyde Park.

Looking back across to Hyde Park.

Love, love, love the architecture.

Love, love, love the architecture.

All the details.

All the details.

NZ War Memorial

NZ War Memorial

What I’ve found while travelling is that I drink very little of anything. Because we are walking/travelling all day I’m never sure where we might be able to use a restroom. When we got dropped off I spotted a Starbucks outside the stop and decided I’d purchase a drink in order that I could use the facilities. Phew.

We got on the bus and only went one further stop until we reached Oxford Street. It was after 5pm and we had decided that during the evening we would do a spot of shopping, having spent the days playing tourist. We found HMV and Mark picked up some Blu-rays that haven’t yet been released in NZ and I bought a pair of sunglasses at Sunglass Hutt. We had a wander around Debenhams and I spotted a lovely red lacy dress on sale. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I bought the dress and will wear it at Jasmine and Sam’s wedding in December. Of course I’ll probably have to find a shawl/wrap or something as well, just to finish it off. I’ll be on the look out while we continue our travels.

A visit to London with spotting the Big Ben, well I almost missed it!

A visit to London with spotting the Big Ben, well I almost missed it!

I was trying to get some fresh veggies. They provide bottles of Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil as well.

I was trying to get some fresh veggies. They provide bottles of Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil as well.

Best Basil Pesto - well equal to our own as I found on enquiring.

Best Basil Pesto – well equal to our own as I found on enquiring.

We found an Italian restaurant just off Oxford Street and had a very nice meal. It was another restaurant that had great reviews on TripAdvisor. And when we got the bill they left a little card asking that we leave a comment on the TripAdvisor website. Good on them. Not that I have left a comment, but we were very pleased with our meals, Mr Fussy commenting that it had been one of the best basil pesto he’d tasted. I’m not sure where our own home made basil pesto rates on his comparison scale. Having just checked, he says it’s about the same, but a little more fluid than ours.

What a playful little chap this squirrel was.

What a playful little chap this squirrel was.

Catch me if you can!  For a photo that is.

Catch me if you can! For a photo that is.

The last day in London I ran to Ravenscourt Park. It only has a one kilometre loop, and my Garmin ran out of juice as I was running to it, so I can’t say if it was accurate or not. I ran once around the garden and it didn’t take that much time so I backtracked to run it again the other way. On my third time round I spotted a little squirrel running across the path so I stopped and wandered up to the tree and tried to talk it into holding still so I could take some decent photos of it. I’m afraid I don’t speak squirrel very well so the photos are not great.

We began packing our suitcases, not an easy task in such a small space, then popped back for more crepes for breakfast. It wasn’t long before we were navigating the stairs at Hammersmith Station to make our way to St Pancras to travel by train to Paris. We were so looking forward to making up for our last trip where we were both unwell, the weather was cold and gloomy, and making the most of our planned activities was difficult due to ill health. So bring on Paris (and I’m writing this as we’re travelling to Switzerland where views/opinions have changed to the anticipation we felt leaving London).

 

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