On to the plate

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


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Happy birthday Mary

This weekend was my Mother-in-Laws birthday.

12 serves would be better. And it would use up all the Rocher Chocolates!

12 serves would be better. And it would use up all the Rocher Chocolates!

I chose the cake I wanted to bake as soon as I read Summer’s blog post on 7 August. I was only days from having gotten off a plane from our 6 week holiday over the other side of the world and I hadn’t quite gotten my head into the game. I wanted something that would look effective (and taste delicious) without having to drag out all the tools and equipment to create flowers to adorn a fondant covered cake.

Summer’s recipe just hit the mark and I loved how fluffy and light the cake looked.

Last weekend I set about making the cake. I knew it would be a little time consuming because when Summer said “about” a third I knew that I would be doing “precisely” a third.

You can see just how many bowls I used in making sure I had just the right amount of vanilla and chocolate batter to marble the cakes.

Brown sugar in cookies can be difficult to mix in thoroughly.

Brown sugar in cookies can be difficult to mix in thoroughly.

The same weekend I also made a batch of cookies using my new Whisked Away Cutters. I had a new recipe to try. It was a bit of a mish-mash of a few recipes. I really wanted a recipe with a darker cookie. This is a ginger based cookie but it tastes more spicy than it does ginger.

Hmm, what to do with these blank canvases.

Hmm, what to do with these blank canvases.

As I often do, I started flooding the cookies and then wondered how I would decorate them. Of course leaving it this late meant no wet-on-wet. But in the end it worked out just fine. I found stencilling to be so much easier than I’d anticipated. I guess I’d built it up to be a bit of a difficult method but it was super quick and easy. Of course I they’re not perfect but I’ve already learnt a few things in my first attempt and I wont be hesitant again.

Vanilla meets chocolate meets more vanilla. And marble.

Vanilla meets chocolate meets more vanilla. And marble.

I took the cakes from the freezer Thursday night after arriving back from a work trip to Alexandra (so pretty down there during Winter) and Friday I made the frosting. Unfortunately the frosting hadn’t cooled and thickend enough for me to complete covering the cake that night so I covered the mixer bowl and put it in the fridge overnight.

This is how gorgeous the frosting looked Friday night.

This is how gorgeous the frosting looked Friday night.

Saturday we started the day with pancakes (love those buttermilk pancakes) and I took the mixer bowl from the fridge and gave the frosting a poke. Solid. Cold and solid. Now I had something I still couldn’t work with. On the Friday night it was beautifully mixed, shiny and velvety. Now it was dull and hard.

Of course I didn’t really have the patience (or wish to leave it to the last minute) to wait several hours to see if it came back to room temperature in time and would be the right consistency/thickness to work with, so I put the bowl into another bowl with some warm water and slowly started to break it up and mix those smaller solid bits together a bit.

When I felt the smaller solid bits were small enough I used the mixer to start to incorporate it. I had to keep scraping the bowl and paddle to get the frosting that was clinging to both back into the bowl. The more I mixed the frosting the lighter it was becoming and I didn’t really want a two toned frosting. It took quite a bit to get the frosting to where I thought it was right to work with. What I hadn’t realised until I was covering the cake was the chunks of chocolate. While everything was perfectly mixed and smooth and glossy on Friday, it seems the chocolate decided to make a return to its original state. I hadn’t realised this or else I’d have done something more (I don’t know what) to incorporate things better. Most of my chocolate was 72% so it could be that I just had too much cocoa solids to work back into a homogeneous velvety smooth frosting.

Fixing the channel.

Fixing the channel.

I’d noticed too with the cakes that as they baked, they rose from the edge, then from the middle but they never quite met so I ended up with a channel on each cake.

At this stage I’m putting this down to the cake tins. My cake tins are all 3” and I know that can make a difference in getting the heat into the cake tin. Anyway, I’ve ordered a bunch of 2” cake tins from the USA now, they’re dirt cheap by comparison to what we pay here in NZ, and I couldn’t find any 2” cake pans at all the usual places I buy from.

The other thing that told me these cakes hadn’t baked as they should was the finished height. Summer said they’d be around 1.5” but mine were barely 1” right in the centre. I knew these cakes were unlikely to be quite as light and fluffy as Summer’s cake.

After 6 weeks of being away from the kitchen and having seen the Baking Powder container was nearing the end I suspect that I also need to replace the last of my baking powder.

Little bits of chocolate not quite mixed back into the frosting.

Little bits of chocolate not quite mixed back into the frosting.

As for the cake, it is as Summer said, not sweet but it is rich. That frosting is so yummy, even with the little chunks of chocolate. I had a hard job pulling myself away from the left over frosting. I had to tip the last of it down the sink or I’d have eaten the lot! And there’s a diet already in my horizon (as of tomorrow!! L) That stuff is so good it’s bad.

Marble cake slice.

Marble cake slice. 

Because of those little bits of chocolate I opted not to have a smooth cake. A pallet knife made easy work of putting little ridges in the surface. Then it was just a case of piping a few swirls and placing the Rocher chocolates on the top and job done.

I’m going to have to re-make the cake once my new pans arrive (baking powder is already on the shopping list). I’m keen to see how the cakes bake without such a barrier of a cake tin to work against.

All together now. Happy Birthday, to you!

All together now. Happy Birthday, to you!

The great news is I couldn’t see all those little bits of cake that I’d placed in the channel. Love having a cake that provides it’s own camouflage.

One last comment. This cake can easily got 12 slices. I decorated the cake for 10 slices but only Mr Fussy and his brother could manage to eat an entire slice. It was so rich that smaller serves would have been nicer.

Getting the hang of the stencilling.

Getting the hang of the stencilling.

 


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Overall bits and bobs from Europe

I was intrigued by all the unusual key rings we were given with keys to the various AirBnB apartments we hired. This one from Paris.

I was intrigued by all the unusual key rings we were given with keys to the various AirBnB apartments we hired. This one from Paris.

This post was started while we were still in Europe, we’d just started our journey through Italy. This post is a collection of thoughts I had as we travelled through Europe, of the things I saw that stuck out to me.

Narrow cobbled roads mean nothing to taxis and buses. They actually hoon down the streets.

Complimentary bar snacks that come with your drink. People just bar hope to get the snacks. Saves on going out for dinner.  This is in Milan.

Complimentary bar snacks that come with your drink. People just bar hope to get the snacks. Saves on going out for dinner. This is in Milan.

Standing at a zebra crossing means nothing. I mean nothing! Unlike NZ where if you’re standing at a zebra crossing the traffic, by law, has to stop to allow you to cross, in Europe a zebra crossing might as well not even exist. You take your life into your own hands. A zebra crossing is not a place to rely on for safe passage across a road. You must have eye contact with the driver of an oncoming car before you can be sure that they will actually slow, because stopping is not always guaranteed.

Our Paris apartment's toilet was pretty typical of toilets in buildings. It's like they got to the end and realised they had yet to put a loo in. Where shall we put it?  Oh here's a poky little space that should be just big enough. And so it was done.

Our Paris apartment’s toilet was pretty typical of toilets in buildings. It’s like they got to the end and realised they had yet to put a loo in. Where shall we put it? Oh here’s a poky little space that should be just big enough. And so it was done.

Even the women’s public toilets smell bad.

Italians come in all shapes and sizes. And there’s a lot of them that are really short, I mean shorter than me!

The temperature is bearable here until it climbs above 28 degrees, then it really does sap the energy from you and it’s time to seek shelter.

The sun doesn’t burn, it’s just a really nice warmth (until it’s above 28 degrees).

Lifts are narrow. At all of our hotels we were thankful for the lift, but they only fit our suitcases, and maybe one of us. Some lifts were quite speedy, others so slow feel you can watch the minutes tick by.

Mora Paris. Not just wannabe bakers shop here. Some very respectable chefs come all the way here to shop, or so it says on the website.

Mora Paris. Not just wannabe bakers shop here. Some very respectable chefs come all the way here to shop, or so it says on the website.

Cake decorating is a non-event. Everywhere we visited, that had a department store, sold KitchenAids but they are pricey. Except they have them on sale at the moment. I thought the price was fixed and it was one of those items that you never see on sale (outside of America), but that’s proven not to be the case. The price varies a lot. Geneva they were dearer than NZ at full price, but in Bologna they were doing a really good deal, and throwing in the pasta attachment for less than what you could buy in NZ.

Finding cookie cutters is hard, even when we really thought we were looking in every nook and cranny we often couldn’t see them. The find in Bologna was significant which is why I went bonkers and spent more than €70.

And it's Mora I purchased these. Those tart rings are so very cheap by comparison to what you pay to have them shipped to NZ. Could not pass these up.

And it’s Mora I purchased these. Those tart rings are so very cheap by comparison to what you pay to have them shipped to NZ. Could not pass these up.

Chocolate moulds aren’t too hard to find, in a speciality store, in France. Any other cake decorating piece of equipment is ridiculously priced.

The further into Italy we went the more we spotted stores selling pasta cutters/stamps.

Every restaurant puts out a bowl of parmesan cheese, which tastes significantly better than anything I’ve bought at home (and I think I buy quality), balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

You’ll also find they’ll bring out a little basket (or type of) with bread. I’m not sure if it’s to snack on while you wait, or it’s meant to accompany your meal.

We eat pizza differently to what we’ve witnessed. In Italy we’ve seen people eat a slice of pizza with the crust wrapped in the serviette. They don’t use a knife and fork, and they don’t just pick it up in their fingers. We’ve also seen them wrap the small end of the wedge over (to the crust end) and then eat the slice.

This is the drink that seemed to be the favourite throughout Europe. Orange, White wine and apple. I didn't like it nearly as much as the locals.  This is the restaurant Mr Fussy had his Tortellini and he'd travel all the way back just to have it again. He hasn't stopped talking about it since we've been home.

This is the drink that seemed to be the favourite throughout Europe. Orange, White wine and apple juice. I didn’t like it nearly as much as the locals. This is the restaurant Mr Fussy had his Tortellini and he’d travel all the way back just to have it again. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since we’ve been home. But check out those breadsticks. You could lose an eye!

The drink of choice seems to be a Spritz. We noticed once we got to Paris that many people were having this brightly coloured orange drink. When we got to Modena we asked the waiter what it was and he told us it was a Spritz and was very popular. It’s Orange with Apple juice and white wine. We had one (well I had some and gave the rest to Mr Fussy), it was OK, but not what I’d have chosen.

Milan. Gorgeous decorations from the Designer capitol or Italy.

Milan. Gorgeous decorations from the Designer capitol or Italy. I could see cookie embellishments/designs everywhere.

Unlike our first trip (together) to Europe, this time we’ve noticed the breakfast served at a hotel now includes a good selection of cereal and yoghurt. Previously we’ve seen nothing but cold meats, cheese and pastries.

When people stop to have their photo taken with something significant, they really pose. I mean pose like they’re on a photo shoot. I watched one women in the Ferrari museum actually move from one stance straight into another and another and another. I mean really. What happened to just being in the picture with the statute or “thing”. Now it’s all flashy smiles and placement of arms etc. Maybe it’s just me and my dislike for my photo to be taken. At that level it just seems a bit gratuitous.

Strolling down the main street in Milan I noticed these grates everywhere. As a woman you'd be picking your path very carefully. You would not want your heels stuck in these.

Strolling down the main street in Milan I noticed these grates everywhere. As a woman you’d be picking your path very carefully. You would not want your heels stuck in these.

I most definitely will not miss hovering over toilet seats, or drinking so little because I had no idea where I’d find the next toilet. The toilets are pretty miserable.

Very few women had wavy hair. Or blonde hair. It’s not significant, just an observation I had. Still it’s hard to know if we were seeing tourists/visitors or they were locals.

The closer we got to Rome the easier it felt being a non-Italian speaking tourist. But despite it getting easier, there was no better feeling than arriving back on UK soil and knowing that 90% of the time you spoke the person you were speaking to knew exactly what you meant.

Some more typical breakfast items seen this journey. This from our motel in Modena.

Some more typical breakfast items seen this journey. This from our motel in Modena.

I already miss the paramsen cheese. I was at the supermarket last night and wanted to buy some. I just coulnd’t face the paramsen cheeses at the supermarekt. I’ve been ruined.

Also our balsamic vinegar isn’t nearly as special as I had thought. After having balsamic vinegar on every table we dined at, I’ve come to know that the thicker the syrup the better the quality. Ours seems like it’s thin dirty water. Again, ruined!

Gelato is very addictive. Or perhaps knowing I’d find it difficult to come by anywhere else I practically gorged myself on it. I’m paying for it now of course and the “D” word is on my lips. Too much dining out and gelato has taken its toll.

Again in Milan. Just another place you can grab a bike and tootle around. Find somewhere to drop it back and you're done. Great idea and commonplace in Europe.

Again in Milan. Just another place you can grab a bike and tootle around. Find somewhere to drop it back and you’re done. Great idea and commonplace in Europe. This is actually the train station. It was such a beautiful building inside and out.

The water is so different that it made my hair feel so soft and almost limp. But then by the end of the day my hair felt really gungy. The pollution does that to it, but during the day you’re not aware of the pollution so it took me a while to realise the cause of the thick not straw-like feeling was from the pollution.

The buildings are stunning. The architecture, the detail, the materials. Just mind-blowing. But the buildings lack colour. Again as we travelled further through Italy colour started to to appear. It wasn’t until you saw a building with some colour that you realised you’d been deprived of it for days and days.

Exotic cars aren’t so exotic in Italy. Where you’d be gazing off into the distance looking after a Ferrari rushing past you here in NZ, it’s just so common place in Europe that it’s barely worth a second glance.

Public transport is so incredibly good. There’s plenty of options, the cost is minimal and it runs so smoothly.

Love love love the doors. Just amazing.

Love love love the doors. Just amazing.

Homeless people. We have homeless people in NZ and it would be wonderful if every New Zealander could meet their own needs, but somehow in your own country it feels safer. I wonder if it’s because we understand our laws, our medical system, our government agencies that have been set up to assist the homeless. When you’re outside your own home it feels scray. It put me on high alert all the time.

For all the differences, the unsettling times, the puzzlement, the frustrations, I’ll be back. Never again to Paris, but we’ll be back to spend more time in Italy that’s for sure. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever tire of the history, the scenery, the people and customs. There’s so much to learn and so much to learn about yourself when you travel to other countries.

 

 


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Rome: In a day (Day 3)

Well they say Rome wasn’t built in a day (and that’s no joke), but that’s all we had left to see parts of Rome.

The myth about how Rome came about from a she-wolf who suckled  Romulus and Remus.

The myth about how Rome came about from a she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.

Clearly we needed a plan since we had to spend our time wisely.

We (or I mostly) chose The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Old Rome – Circo Massimo (which was right outside our door and Mr Fussy hadn’t seen it during his previous visit), the “Best” Pizza and the “Best” Gelato as told by our Segway Tour Guide, Massimo and Mr Fussy insisted that I see The Trevi Fountain.

So many apartment complexes had their own fountains. This one was from a pretty swanky looking place. And probably why the fountain is a bit extravagant looking.

So many apartment complexes had their own fountains. This one was from a pretty swanky looking place. And probably why the fountain is a bit extravagant looking.

I would have liked to see The Vatican too but we knew it would be unlikely and rather than be really disappointed we couldn’t squeeze it in, it’s earmarked for a future visit to Rome (and we’re already planning – I’m writing having been at home now for almost 2 weeks).

I suggested that we may need to use Taxis to get from one place to the next so that we could cover the distance needed, but in the end we walked almost everywhere, and it was still stinking hot.

The alarm had been set early so that we could get to the Colosseum for 8:30 when it opened. I’d booked our tickets the day before so we expected to pretty much march in there. But no. Things had changed in recent weeks, and despite having booked our tickets, we still had a line. A separate line, but we still had to go up to the counter to have our email confirming the purchase checked and exchanged for paper tickets.

Hot already and it was only about 9am. We'd just begun our visit at the Colosseum.

Hot already and it was only about 9am. We’d just begun our visit at the Colosseum.

Having tickets in hand we proceeded through the gate to pretty much have to return to the same cubicles to get an Audio Guide. What I hadn’t known was that without having booked the audio guide, I was required to leave my passport or other ID with a photo at the counter. There was a great deal of unease on my part about walking away from my passport. It pretty much ruined my use of the audio guide and believe it or not I only really started to listen to it as I was lined up to return the audio guide some hours later.

We made our way up to where the audio guide starts. I was so confused because the map we had showed something like 6 places for the audio guide. I didn’t understand how somewhere like the Colosseum could have only 6 points of interest and though the map was therefore for something else.

We learnt a lot from reading these signs. Not all the reading was of fairytales.

We learnt a lot from reading these signs. Not all the reading was of fairytales.

These stairs didn't look to be all that comfortable. I can't imagine wanting to sit here for too long.

These stairs didn’t look to be all that comfortable. I can’t imagine wanting to sit here for too long.

I stood and tried to take it all in. I recalled several movies I’d seen of Roman times and conjured up the sounds and images. It sure does look and feel very different when you’re there. Reading the boards where accounts of activities or descriptions of what we saw was an eye opener. Strange how being a part of the Colosseum made those descriptions seem more barbaric than how you feel when watching a movie portraying the same things.

I wished we had booked a guide, I know there is so much more to the place than what we read, and what I heard when I was listening to the audio guide.

Looking down to what were underground passage ways that animals and slaves were brought up to provide the entertainment.

Are you starting to get an appreciation for just how large the Colosseum is? Look how tiny the people are.

While it had been cool inside the Colosseum when we’d been in line, being out in the open was very hot and so when we decided we had to move on (we could have spent so much more time). We had to walk past The Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus in English) to get to the apartment and we’d pretty much expected we would go there on our way, but now there was a very long line. With the heat of the day at 11am we decided to return when it was later in the day and instead head off to the best Pizza place in Rome. We’d been told to arrive there around 11:30 – 12pm so leaving the Colosseum at 11am meant we should arrive right on time.

We swapped a few things at the apartment before heading on. I’ve got to say it was so welcoming being in the apartment with the air con going that it made it difficult to go back out into the heat.

And every day life continues. Despite the Colosseum being a ruin, there's still maintenance and upkeep going on.

And every day life continues. Despite the Colosseum being a ruin, there’s still maintenance and upkeep going on.

As we headed to the pizza place we found ourselves walking down a very narrow “road”. All of a sudden the buildings become shop fronts and we were walking past shoe and clothing shops. We walked past one place I wanted to visit if we had time. They had a number of sort of crocheted type tops that I was interested in. I could see wearing them over a singlet type top allowing me to look a bit smarter but still stay as cool as was possible.

One of the many stalls at the market.

One of the many stalls at the market.

Almost immediately past that shop we entered a Piazza and here by day it was a Market place in full swing. I recalled Massimo had described this during our Segway tour. Not that I knew where we were then at night, but now I knew.

We made our way to the Pizza place and were pleasantly surprised that there was no queue at all.

I asked permission about taking photos of the "Best" pizza place. This is just part of their display case.

I asked permission to take photos of the “Best” pizza place. This is just part of their display case.

Lots more than pizza.

Lots more than pizza.

No way you'd go hungry here.

No way you’d go hungry here.

The Pizza place is a walk in only. They weighed the pizza a bit like we’d experienced in Modena with the Focaccia, then you take it up to the counter to pay. We couldn’t see anywhere we could sit but decided the edge of the fountain would do. Ordinarily in that heat I’d welcome the little bit of splash we got but not when food is sitting around. After enjoying our pizza we wandered into the Market to check it out. Mostly there were scarves and other ladies items and fruit stalls. There was on that sold lollies and several that sold spices. We made out way to one of several that had plastic milk shake sized/shaped containers filled with fruit. We’d been craving fresh fruit. We paid for one filled with cut strawberries and the one I got had pineapple and grapes. Then the staff sort of pointed and gestured to join another line. The cups of fruit were cut for the purpose of making into pure juice. In our best English (haha) we in turn did our own gesturing to explain we just wanted the fruit to eat. We got the usual daft looks. We spent the rest of the time it took to eat the fruit wandering about. I bought a couple of square shawls the headed to the shop I spied on our way into the market.

Mr Fussy's lunch. This was potato and onion. Lunch was eaten just as it was packaged up, like a sandwich.

Mr Fussy’s lunch. This was potato and onion. Lunch was eaten just as it was packaged up, like a sandwich.

Another of the stalls from the Market.

The Market was a busy place.

Having bought much more than I had expected (that elderly shop owner was shrewd!) I consulted Google maps to plan out our path to the next destination, The Pantheon.

The sun makes it seems like this is a painting.

The sun makes it seems like this is a painting.

So much detail. It takes my breath away.

So much detail. It takes my breath away.

All around the inside of the Pantheon are little alcoves with some statue or painting.

All around the inside of the Pantheon are little alcoves with some statue or painting.

Another impressive building. You feel so insignificant, like a little ant.

Another impressive building. You feel so insignificant, like a little ant.

The Pantheon was pretty impressive from the outside and I really wanted to stop and take photos before we got inside the building, but it was so hot. I really didn’t know what the Pantheon was. I was pretty naïve about so many things. But I know better now!

I couldn’t believe it was free to enter this place. There was a lady in a booth but she was there to ensure you were reasonably dressed to enter. I had to put on my shirt over my top, but I had carried it for just such occasions.

It never ceases to amaze me just how serious people are about their religion. The place was filled with people gawing in amazement but there were the faithful seated in quite reflection, some clearly praying, those kneeling in front of the alter and crossing themselves. I really did feel like I was intruding. Every so often a voice would come over the speaker system reminding people this was a place of worship and to keep quiet. Even whispering, as most were, it was very noisy. As per usual we found a seat, more that I needed a rest from walking all day. It was good though to sit and look around an just absorb the atmosphere and try to understand what draws people to a place like this, or what reasons they had. Some were there simply to take professional photos. Others seemed to move about quickly, having somewhere else they had to dash off to. I like to people watch. There was just too much to see. I wish we had more time. I’d love to spend an hour or so to just soak up all of the paintings and sculptures, to think about what it was like to build a place like this, what it must have been like to live in those times and how life was so different, responsibilities, priorities and status having different meaning to today. I bet it was as hard for them to see into the future and understand how the building would be received and used as it is for me to think back to the time in which it was built.

How does he do that? Trickery or otherwise.

How does he do that? Trickery or otherwise.

We headed to the Trevi Fountain but would pass the “Best” Gelato shop to get there. We were almost at the Gelato shop when we saw a crowd of people looking at something. We weren’t sure what it was until we go much close, but there was a guy levitating. Now I’m not usually one to belive in such things, they seem to be best suited for magic shows (which I’m also sceptical about), but I couldn’t see anything going on that could disguise any sort of ledge or wires. This guy truly appeared to be levitating. He much have been so hot all kitted out in full garb, but then if it’s to hide “things” that are needed in his “act” then I guess you have to put up with it.

The "Best" Gelato store.

The “Best” Gelato store.

The Gelato store wasn’t just gelato, they had chocolates and pastries and savoury items as well. I joined the queue waiting to get into the area where the Gelato counter was when it dawned on me that we had to pay first before we got there. Instead of sending Mr Fussy to pay, or to take my place, I left the queue and paid for the gelatos and rejoined the queue. Then after a few moments the lady at another counter said there’s no queue and to move away from and into the gelato area.

It didn’t take me a moment to begin walking and then shuffling about to try and get a position. The thing with being vertically challenged is that I don’t get seen if the counter is lined with say cones, serviettes and chalkboards describing flavours. I desperately looked at Mr Fussy who understood that in order to be noticed he was going to have to jockey for position since I seemed wedged right in the spot you wouldn’t see anything! There were about 6 men serving and they just took the ticket from whoever waved it in their direction. We were in front of the side of the counter where all the gelato was made from fruit rather than milk based. That suited us just fine and I wasn’t worried I couldn’t see the flavours from the other counter. Mr Fussy had champagne and I can no longer remember the other flavour, I had mandarin and again, the other flavour escapes me. Both were intense and refreshing, but as for the “Best”. Mr Fussy still remembered our very first Gelato in Milan being his favourite.

I had read reviewed on Yelp that explained that once served you had to move outside, past the tables. Some people in the past had been “yelled” at for sitting at the tables. In Europe they really are serious that if you sit at a table there’s a service fee. So you move right on outside and line the narrow street and gulp down your gelato that is melting furiously because it’s so hot.

Shut up shop. We probably missed this by a couple of weeks tops. A bit of a disappointment.

Shut up shop. We probably missed this by a couple of weeks tops. A bit of a disappointment.

Next we set off for the Trevi Fountain. I had recalled Mr Fussy talking about the fountain when we was recounting his Contiki trip. Did I know what it was or what made it so famous/popular? No. I just knew that people threw money into it. So imagine our surprise when we came across the place and it was completely engulfed in wire fencing and EMPTY. Wikipedia has some details about the restoreation. While we were there I saw no way we could walk over the scaffolding and knew nothing about a pool of water from the fountain you could throw your coins into.

Feeling a bit disappointed the fountain was empty and nothing like Mr Fussy had remembered we decided we’d head back to the apartment, ditch the goodies we’d bought and see if the queue to Circo Massimo had lessened. Sadly the heat of the day hadn’t.

This was the one time we got a taxi during the day, and it wasn’t exactly easy. As we walked to the taxi rank one taxi was being loaded up and on its way. There was another taxi there but it was empty. We couldn’t see the driver. Another person who was also waiting managed to flag down a taxi. Wolf whistling really does get the job done. But as for us we just waited and eventually a taxi pulled up. Initially I thought he was getting out for a rest but when we asked if he was free he got back in and away we went.

How to feel really small.

How to feel really small.

Walking to the entrance of Circo Massimo was exhausting. The wasn’t a queue and we were soon loaded up with a map and decided on a direction to head. I’m afraid I was so hot that even getting my phone out to take photos was becoming too much of an effort. I walked around trying to imagine what the place was like thousands of years ago when it was the city. In some parts the ruins were so insignificant that you could have missed the place as being something of importance, but other structures still stood large and foreboding. We took shelter and rest wherever we could, and were thankful for the numerous fountains which we could fill up our water bottles. It was a scorcher of a day, even by Roman standards. Okay, now that I’ve gone looking for links online, the place we were at is known as The Roman Forum. But all the time the maps showed this as Circo Massimo, and our Segway Guide had called it that too. I’m just a bit confused.

Such massive columns.

Such massive columns.

I wonder what the building looked like. Amazing that the columns survived.

I wonder what the building looked like. Amazing that these columns survived.

It was obviously the trend to have columns of gigantic proportions.

It was obviously the trend to have columns of gigantic proportions.

With taking a seat where we could often we’d end up with a tour guide with a group talking about what sort of activities took place in the building. It was quite nice to eavesdrop and learn a few more tidbits than we picked up from the plaques outside each site. But at the end of the day it was far too hot to spend more time and so we cut our visit shorter than I would have liked. There was a whole other side that we never got to see. While I’d been impressed by the column structures that we could see easily as we walked from our apartment, now we were in amongst them, and they were larger than I can ever explain. I really do wonder why they built things on such a large scale. I’m not sure what the purpose was, it certainly wasn’t for structure. Again the details and carving in such stubborn materials blew me away. We made our way to one of the exits and headed for the sanctuary of the apartment. I’ve got to say 36 degrees is about 8 degrees too hot to be able to move in. Before we got too far we saw a number of bridal parties up at the Captioline Museum. Again, using any excuse for a sit down, we sat on the stairs and observed the proceedings. There were lots of photos and it was interesting to see part of the celebrations and see how they are not dissimilar to NZ. Apparently it’s very expensive to get married and so it’s all that common, as if getting married should be considered common, I’m just stuck for a more appropriate word. The two parties we saw seemed to differ quite a bit in style, even when you looked at their guests and their behaviour. We sat listening to an Australian accent next to us that would turn to Italian. Mum was explaining to her two young daughters what was going on. One of the daughters was thrilled that the bride had paid some attention to her and given her some flowers. Anyway, having spent a good 10 minutes regrouping we were on our way back to the apartment to gather some strength to soon head out for our last evening meal in Rome, last evening meal in Italy, last evening meal in Europe.

I could look at the detail all day.

I could look at the detail all day.

Such beauty from such a blank canvas.

Such beauty from such a blank canvas.

They sure were extraordinary craftsmen.

They sure were extraordinary craftsmen.

You’re going to laugh. We went to the Pizza where we’d seen the Market that lunchtime, to the place we’d be warned not to go for a meal because it’s too touristy and the food is not so good. But we really didn’t feel like pasta (I can’t believe I reached that point). We sat at a table facing into the Piazza and I had the most glorious green salad while Mr Fussy had a meal that closely resembled a Mexican dish.

Makeshift display tables.

Makeshift display tables.

Back again for another attempt of setting up shop.

Back again for another attempt of setting up shop.

We had a great view, again the people watching was interesting. I noticed a number of street vendors quickly pack up their things and high tail it over the back corner just out of view. After some time they’d slinker back and pull out their make shift tables and set up their wares again. And then they’d scatter and be gone again. It took a few times of this for me to realise that they were probably not meant to be selling what they were and any sniff of police they were gone. Poof, vanished. Well not quite because I could still see them hovering about out the back corner of the Piazza. I checked with one of the waiters and he confirmed they were trying to keep under the radar of the local police. The other thing that was fun to watch was a young boy at the water fountain. He was having a ball putting his finger over the end so that the water spouted out of the hole (meant for drinking from), he was doing it in such a way that it jetted out and wet anyone walking in the vicinity. Occassionally he’d back away and let someone fill up their water bottle, or someone would cup their hands trying to get some water (they really needed to know you could drink from it like a drinking fountain) but then the little boy would return and more hijinx ensued. His Mum, finally having enough, scooted the little boy and his sister away and order was restored, but not before a good many people enjoyed the entertainment and remembered what it was like to be a young child where the simpliest of things gave us the greatest of pleasures. Ok, maybe it was just me ;-)

So much fun to watch this little boy playing tricks on people with the water fountain.

So much fun to watch this little boy playing tricks on people with the water fountain.

Having finished our meal we headed across the corner where the street sellers kept racing for cover and had our very last gelato. Chocolate Mint for Mr Fussy and I have no recollection of what I had, but I suspect it was fruity. We were finally completely satisfied and made our way back down the tiny narrow streets to the apartment to try and do the best we could to get our packing in order.

Thankfully I checked out EasyJets website and noticed our bag allowance was just 20kg each. Suspecting we’d be a bit over that I bought an extra 6 kilo (you can pool your luggage allowance). Feeling like we were all set for our flight the next day it was lights out since we had a very early start of the day.

I’d like to say everything went well leaving Rome, and I guess it did, but while standing in line for bag drop (yes there was a line, another line!) I realised I had entered Mr Fussy’s passport number incorrectly into the EasyJet website when making our booking. I had a horrible fear that it would cost us a lot of money for that oversight. I was trying desperately to get online on their site to update our details and willing the line to move slower. Who ever thought I’d be happy to be in a line after all. Anyway I couldn’t get a connection (story of my life, airports show as having free wifi but in reality it doesn’t exist, it’s just a myth) and just hoped the fine wouldn’t be too awful, or worse that we had to cancel the ticket and buy a new one (I was thinking worse case scenario). When we got to the counter I showed the boarding pass issued on their Android App. The lady spoke really slow like we might not be understanding her, though her English was really good and we, were, well, English speaking. She was taking everything so slowly. She was looking at her monitor, then looking at the weight of our bags and then started to say we were overweight. I explained I’d purchased more baggage allowance the night before and then as if time wasn’t an issue she looked back at the screen and said yes it was showing. It was so strange. Everything in slow motion. Anyway she then gave us a really thorough explanation of passing through security and through to the gate which hadn’t yet been announced. And not once did she notice the passport didn’t match the details saved on their database.

We passed through security without a hitch then my next concern was the airline hostesses might notice when they checked our ticket against the passport at the gate. I started to think logically and realise they didn’t have time to compare numbers, rather just make sure the photo in the passport matched the person in front of them. And so it was.

What I couldn’t understand was the time which the flight was scheduled to leave. We were still standing in a queue waiting for tickets to be checked before getting on the bus to be taken to the plane. Clearly the flight time was taking into account the time it would take to get all passengers to the plane and seated. As it turned out we were sitting on the tarmac for a good 70 minutes before getting underway. There were thunderstorms in London and so we were waiting for the backlog of planes to have landed until there was a gap for us to arrive.

When we finally arrived we made the very long journey to Immigration. I found it really weird the non EU people were directed down a different ramp to the EU passport holders only to arrive back at the same area. We weren’t the only Kiwis on the flight, and not the only Kiwis having sussed out the situation and commented on the extra distance we had to walk in order to reach the same point.

The only reason I’m talking about having now arrived back in the UK (Gatwick airport) is to explain the third degree we got when questioned about our arrival. When we first arrived to London at the beginning of our trip we just breezed in and pretty much were ignored all the way through. Now we were being treated like we might be trying to slip into the country and overstay. I just wanted to show the lady our booked flights. Honestly we were really getting more questions than were necessary. After all, we were a couple, we weren’t young, we hardly looked like we’d be hoping for a better life in the UK. I didn’t think the questions were ever going to stop. She wanted to know which countries we’d visited which I said, then she wanted to write down all the places we’d been, in the end she settled for Milan, Modena, Bologna, Florence and Rome being listed as Italy. What were were going to do with our time, how long we were staying, what address would we be staying at, what was our relationship to them, and then one question I’ve never heard anyone being asked before was whether our leave was paid or unpaid. Clearly we looked like a threat to the UK. I guess this made up for all those times in the past we’ve just sauntered on into the UK without so much as anyone batting an eyelid. But really I thought it was overkill.

Finally being released from the questions we were finally reunited with our luggage and found David (Mr Fussy’s mum’s cousin). Now I felt like we’d arrived, and dodged the thunderstorms. Honestly, they’d followed us all the way through the EU, I was beginning to feel like the Piped Piper, but of thunder storms.

 


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Rome – Tuscany Tour (Day 2)

Stunning view. This is what "untouched" looks like.

Stunning view. This is what “untouched” looks like.

We were up early on Thursday to make sure we could walk to our pick up point should everything turn pear-shape with the taxi booking. We needn’t have worried. The taxi company phoned and in broken English confirmed which taxi numbered vehicle would be collecting us, and it had already been despatched. Our taxi turned up early but we were ready.

Rome at 6:30am is very quiet, almost eerie. We arrived far too early and no one else was around. We decided to go for a walk around the block and in doing so realised just how close we were from Rome Termi. And from there the distance from our apartment. I still wouldn’t have wanted to walk with the suitcases in the heat, but it was do-able. Still we escaped the one probable “con” at the station (the only place Massimo said tourists needed to be on the lookout), although one could argue the taxi driver did a decent job of robbing us ;-)

We didn’t know what we should be on the lookout for at the meeting point but began to see couples arriving, and eventually I spotted someone holding the Walks of Italy sign. The shuttle bus turned up and we were quickly seated in the taxi. The first thing our tour guide asked was “does anyone get car sick”. It was at this point I realised that going through Tuscany might involve a few windy roads. Instead of the seats we had selected I moved up closer to the front where there would be less motion from the drive.

Our group included only 7 people. There was a younger couple from Wisconsin who had been travelling the world over the past year (and loved NZ, especially Lake Tekapo, and admitted if they could re-visit one place they’d been to, it would be NZ), a slightly older (than us) couple from California who had already spent 4 weeks in Rome, and a lady from Kentucky USA who was travelling on her own during University holidays. As well as Marta (our official guide), Andrea (guy, I can’t get Word to put the doofy above the a) was along for the day as experience as he was training to be a guide. And then there was our driver whose name I never heard, but he was close to retirement age and was a very good driver.  Both Marta and Andrea had spent time studying overseas, Marta in Nottingham, and I don’t know if I heard where Andrea had been, I just recall he often mentioned Germany.

Closed for business, which meant the town was closed.

Quaint little shops of yester year.

So that was out cosy little group. The shuttle bus seated 15 at the back so we had plenty of room to spread out. Now when I say spread out, I don’t mean sprawl. Rich (older couple) was a big, tall guy. Adam (younger couple) was probably slightly taller. Rich was sandwiched between rows whereas Adam had more room being the first row behind the driver’s bench seat. There was nowhere Rich could sit that provided a little more room. Only my seat would have been better for him. I had the first single seat on the door side, so I had all that entry space. I felt pretty guilty, but I knew that if I began to get car sick it would be unpleasant for everyone.

The night before, when talking to Massimo about our Tuscany tour, he looked at the description of where we’d be going and said it would take 2 hours to reach Pienza. Not surprisingly, I was mentally geared up for 2 hours of travelling, so it came somewhat as a surprise the journey was going to be 3 hours which would be split up by a short stop half way to stretch our legs and take a toilet break, and for those that needed it, a coffee.

Marta spoke very briefly as we crossed into the Tuscany region and made mention of the volcanic rock the little town was built on. Apart from that our tour went in silence, for three. whole. hours.

During the windy bits of the trip I closed my eyes. It’s not something that has worked well for me in the past, but given I was weary from travelling I managed to snooze a little off and on, and kept my eyes closed to avoid looking at the sheer drops of the road we were travelling (yes I caught a glimpse when I opened my eyes, but that was not to be repeated).

We arrived at Monticchiello and got out to again stretch our legs and take in the surroundings. This is where the movie Under The Tuscan Sun was filmed. It’s a place that has strict bylaws about the buildings and how the land is to be preserved. You can only live there by having something to sell, it might be cheese or bread, or some other produce, but you have to sell something. The land is not in any way developed, nor is it allowed to be. It’s the only place that exists like this. Other than the missing industrial buildings, on first glance, at the distance we were, you wouldn’t know whether the land had been cultivated in any way. I’m expect it’s obvious in the food grown here. The shop was unfortunately closed for the day. One of our tour party asked where the centre of the township was. Marta explained it was in fact the little shop we’d stood outside.

Balsamic vinegar and Pienza cheese. Delish!

Balsamic vinegar and Pienza cheese. Delish!

Off we went, our next stop was the township of Pienza. Massimo had said this was the place of very good cheese, so we knew to expect that. It didn’t take too long to reach Pienza and we stopped first to look at ceramics. The lady who owned this shop is in some way related to Marta but I can’t recall if it’s her Aunt or not. It was a very interesting visit. We learnt about the Pope, the different layers of soil in the ground, the underground tunnels and the well. I’d say the store was about the coolest place to be without any air conditioning. Basically the shop was carved out of the side of the ground.

The pottery shop was basically underground. You could see one of the tunnels the Pope used, some to reach his mistress.

The pottery shop was basically underground. You could see one of the tunnels the Pope used, some to reach his mistress.

We stopped at the Cheese shop and had several samples of cheeses and a balsamic vinegar/truffle concoction that was dabbed over the portions of cheese. We also got to taste a very nice balsamic vinegar, in fact two different ones of different ages. The cheese we tried was the same type, but different ages. We first sampled 3 months, 6 months and 12 months. There was cheese discs there in the shop aged 2 years and more. The 6 month old cheese was our favourite, along with the 6 month balsamic vinegar. We got some of each to take with us to Hove for when we stayed with family in a few days.

We walked a few paces to the church. One of the things spoken about during our discussion at the pottery place as the land condition the church was built on. When the church was built there was some mention the stability of the land wasn’t going to last the distance and would subside. The Pope at the time decided that the problem would only become evident in 100 years and so wasn’t fazed by it at all. I’m not sure what he expected to happen after his time, but it seems he never expected life beyond 100 years. When we entered the church the place looked fine, but the closer you walked toward the alter the more it became obvious the building slipped away. There was a large crack running from one side to the other where the subsidence began. This was one of the first churches we’d been in where wood carving was seen. Yet another skill used in creating beautiful churches.

The interior of churches were starting to change. Now they were using wood carvings to add detail. Oh the craftsmanship.

The interior of churches were starting to change. Now they were using wood carvings to add detail. Oh the craftsmanship.

We strolled outside and had an amazing view across Tuscany. It’s hard not to love the view. And in many ways it made me wonder about how tourists view New Zealand. We often hear how much they love our wide open green spaces and native forests, but I was pretty much impressed with what I was seeing and I live in a country that many people love to visit.

Fresh green salad to begin with.

Fresh green salad to begin with.

The roasted egg plant and cheese. It was surprisingly good.

The roasted egg plant and cheese. It was surprisingly good.

The pasta salad that lacked a bit of flavour.

The pasta salad that lacked a bit of flavour.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese.

Eat from left to right, starting with the milder cheese working your way to the more ... pungent.

Eat from left to right, starting with the milder cheese working your way to the more … pungent.

Dessert, biscotti with an apricot type jam.

Dessert, biscotti with an apricot type jam and apricot “jelly” slices.

The flies, just typing about them bring back the memories of trying in vain to sweep them off my arms.

The flies, just typing about them bring back the memories of trying in vain to sweep them off my arms.

Back onto the bus and we were heading off to the organic farm for lunch. They were expecting us and again we had an amazing view from the outside dining table set up for our group. While I was very pleased all the ingredients came from the farm, I was having a hard time accepting the price of using no pesticides. The flies!  I’m telling you they were everywhere, and I’m not talking just a couple. There were 50 or so. No I didn’t count them, but they were swarming all over the food, they were all over my arms, they were all over everyone. It was pretty gross actually. You’re served this lovely fresh organically grown fruit only to have flies sitting all over it. You couldn’t swat the fly away and it would be on its way pestering another table, it and its 50+ friends were just slightly inconvenienced by the swatting and returned immediately you drew your hand away. I guess I want my cake and to eat it too. I want my food to be grown/farmed locally and free of pesticides (when it’s affordable) but I do NOT want to eat my food hounded by persistent flies.

This little piggy went to market .... Actually this little piggy was very curious.

This little piggy went to market …. Actually this little piggy was very curious.

First up was freshly baked bread with balsamic vinegar and oil provided for dipping. We moved onto a fresh green salad, nothing fancy, but it was enjoyable (honestly I was concerned that taking a bite might also land me unwanted protein thanks for a fly) and since we’d not really hard much in the way of veggies I was very happy to overlook the flies that were all over it and everything else. You don’t want to know how many flies you can fit around the top of a bottle of balsamic vinegar. We were also served roasted eggplant with roasted zucchini with fresh ricotta cheese on the side. I was quite determined to try everything and I did. And it was actually quite enjoyable, much better than I expected.

An outdoor bread oven. Wonder where I can fit one of those.

An outdoor bread oven. Wonder where I can fit one of those.

Moving on from the fresh greens we were served a cold pasta dish. This I guess was the disappointment of the food. It was really lacking in flavour which surprised me. Given there were things sprinkled over it, and it had pesto as well, it really wasn’t very flavourful. Mr Fussy ended up sprinkling extra stuff on his. I’m not sure what the dried mix was that sat on the table, but he sprinkled it liberally in order to get some flavour from the pasta.

Lastly came the “dessert”. Naturally this was to be the best part of the meal for me. We were served a chocolate biscotti biscuit (with flaxseed) and an array of different cheeses. The gentleman server explained all the cheeses and in which order we should eat them. I guess he thought we’d muck it up since he proceeded to serve each person with the cheese in a semi-circle around the plate to help work out the order. It was a good thing he did, but the time everyone was served we’d all forgotten which of the condiments suited which of the cheeses. I quite enjoyed eating cheese with honey. I’ve never done that before. There was also a pear and cinnamon “jam” and something else that had lemon with it. They all tasted good to me with all the cheeses I tried. I didn’t try the really soft cheese that appeared to have an outer “crust” of volcanic ash or maybe straight up mold.

All the while there was both red and white wine available and everyone was having a pleasant meal. I did think it was a very long lunch. I wasn’t sure how long it was meant to take, but it seemed to be drag on longer than I was comfortable with. Still I get fidgety if I sit too long.

We had a quick stroll around the farm buildings with some having a look at the donkeys and other animals. I’d already had my share with the little pigs that were lounging under the table (and sniffing everything with their dirty snouts). As cute as they were they were a little too inquisitive and people were having to rescue their bags and whatnot that had been sitting on the ground since the pigs wanted to pretty much eat anything, or at least give it a proper sniff before deciding the contents held nothing of interest to them.

Lots of barrels. I wonder how much red wine was in the cellar.

Lots of barrels. I wonder how much red wine was in the cellar.

Once back in the shuttle we were headed to the vineyard. This is a vineyard that has a DOCG or something like that. It means the wine itself cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the world. The flavours of the wine come from the ocean breeze (the ocean being hidden from all view and a long way off), the minerals in the soil and the weather conditions. The vineyard only produces a red wine. I don’t drink (normally) and Mr Fussy isn’t a big fan of red wine. We started with a relatively young wine but it was too strong for me, I handed my glass back ;-)  Mr Fussy had some of the next two wines of different ages. The salami was good though. I’m really not one for cold cut meats, and usually salami is too spicy, but this one was nice. There was a young guy assisting the owner, he was American but spoke Italian and so the dance began where it became quicker (if nothing else) to speak in Italian and have it interpreted, though I was genuinely impressed this older Italian lady spoke quite reasonable English.

The young guy was very exuberant. He clearly loved his job, a job his father had wanted him to take to get experience overseas. At one point he was flapping his arms and accidentally knocked over a very expensive bottle of red wine. Oops. This young chap had mentioned about the bottling of the wine occurring at a full moon. I asked if that was just a way to schedule it or if it had some significance. He explained that it was to do with the gravitational pull when there’s a full moon. They bottle then because there’s less chance of air being left in the bottle when it is corked. And air in the bottle deteriorates the quality of the wine. He lead us out the back to show us the machine that is used for corking, and while there he showed off this piece of Tar that had been hanging for 12 months and would eventually be made into a Salami.

Ahh, I don't think I want to sniff that. Though I will admit the salami at the Vineyard was the best I'd ever had, and this little creature is destined for salami.

Ahh, I don’t think I want to sniff that. Though I will admit the salami at the Vineyard was the best I’d ever had, and this little creature is destined for salami.

With the wine tour finished the last thing to do was visit the Castle, sadly we didn’t get to the castle as time had slipped away and the driver is only allowed to be “on the job” for so many hours. This was a real disappointment to us. We love visiting castles. With NZ being such a young country we don’t have much in the way of history, or castles. Travelling to Europe means we get to absorb so much history and learn about what happened in different regions and by the kings and later owners of castles. So instead it was back on board to being another long 3 hours drive back to Rome. We did have another rest break, but for the most part people sort of dozed off and on until the rest stop and then chatted quietly for the last part of the journey.

Arriving back in Rome was a real eye opener. Unlike when we left, where the city of Rome seemed to still be slowly wakening up, the city was in full noise, and when I say noise, I mean it literally and figuratively.

Before I knew it we were amongst a throng of vehicles all trying to get through a stretch of road. There were horns blaring, and people yelling and crazy behaviour by motorcyclists. I asked how many official lanes there were which everyone laughed at. There are no lane markings. Before we had set out for the day I had remarked to Marta how the behaviour of road users were so different to NZ. Everyone seemed to just do as they pleased. And if you, as a pedestrian, happen to be at a crossing, well that meant nothing. Marta explained that the only reason the traffic actually worked is because no one paid any attention to the “rules”. Apparently, as soon as someone tries to drive according to the rules it results in chaos.

One we all exited the shuttle it was time for a quick goodbye before then heading back on foot to the apartment. There was a quick stop in at the supermarket and a few photos taken at the Capitoline museum. When we had walked up the stairs to reach the Capitoline museum (our apartment is the other side of it) there was a guy reading in Italian, and then a pianist playing a segment. It was like the reading was being interpreted into music, but the music wasn’t ad-hoc, the pianist had someone turning page of music. It was quite lovely. There had been seats set out in rows and people of all walks of life had sat down to enjoy the entertainment.

After a short stop to understand what was going on we continued on to the apartment and sighed with relief the air con had done the job. It had been a very hot and exhausting day.

We had to be up early the next day too. While I had waited for the tour party to arrive I booked online our tickets to the Coliseum. It opened at 8:30am and we wanted to arrive around then so that we had time to make our way to the other sights that were on our agenda. All we had was the Friday to trek around and tick a few places off our list.


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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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