On to the plate

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


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Sometimes it goes wrong – chalkboard cookies

Birthday bunting

Birthday bunting. I hand wrote and held my breath all the while.

Someone at work has a rather special birthday on Tuesday. Not that I’d given it much thought, but I decided on Saturday to make some cookies to take in. Dave has had his gallbladder removed so he wont be partaking of any cookies, cake or whatever else you might generally serve for such a celebration. But the rest of the team will be more than happy to have a cookie in his honour.

I made a blunder with the cookie dough, not paying attention. I ended up with twice the amount of white sugar than I should have. I knew that meant the dough would spread and spread it did. Given there’s no raising agents it spread big time. What I was left with was thinner cookies than I would have liked, and in turn that made giggling the cookies to get the royal icing to “melt” and settle in a nice even layer a bit tricky. One of the first cookies actually started to buckle in my hands.

Things were looking a bit funky.

Things were looking a bit funky.

This time I used a painters angled pallet knife type thing to spread the royal icing. Boy that’s a lot quicker than using a scribe took to push the icing out. It took no time to ice the cookies. Even before we went to bed I could see something odd going on with the black cookies. The black had quite a bit of cocoa powder in it to help deepen the colour, but it’s not a new trick for me.

Old wrinkly looking cookies

Old wrinkly looking cookies

This morning the first thing I did was check the cookies and I ended up with these wrinkly looking cookies. Boo. I wondered if it would be possible to scrape the icing off to salvage the cookies. But  before I decided whether to waste my time doing that, I wanted to know if the grey coloured cookies would still end up with a chalkboard type look. I got out my new click ‘n twist brush. It has quite a fat end and too fat to use on a small cookie. I decided to dab my paint brush into the paint that was pooling at the brush end. Phew. The cookie looked just fine. On that note I proceeded to scrape all the black royal icing off and re-ice the cookies with the grey.

Things were looking up. The chalkboard look was a go.

Things were looking up. The chalkboard look was a go.

Since the cookies were freshly iced I could use the “60” royal icing transfers I was doodling the night before. I let them drop and used the scribe tool to better position them, then push them into the icing a bit. I got carried away and decided to use some of the “eyes” as well. I’m going with a scene here, of people hiding in the dark to surprise Dave, shouting “Happy Birthday”. Yeah it looks odd but it’ll appeal to someone.

Practice makes perfect. Finally I had eyes. Not that I have a plan for them.

Practice makes perfect. Finally I had eyes. Not that I have a plan for them.

I decided that I might as well carry on puddling about and started to add little embellishments to the cookies. I’m hoping I haven’t made them a bit girly, but I’m sort of thinking black and white movie type era where they used lots of vintage type frames. Meanwhile I’m still trying to find the right font to use so that I can hand paint more messages onto the chalkboard cookies. I’ve also go some rugby balls and two scrolls in which to write a Happy Birthday message. The KopyKake will be used because the font will be a bit too fancy (not pretty, that’s different) for me to freehand.

Using this as a way to practice more piping.

Using this as a way to practice more piping.

I really like the cookies which have a bit of colour. I think being on a black background makes the colour stand more.

Hmm, capers. Maybe not next time.

Hmm, capers. Maybe not next time.

Plenty of spice in this tagine. Loved the dried apricots.

Plenty of spice in this tagine. Loved the dried apricots.

Anyway, aside from baking cookies I made another two Chelsea Winter recipes. Saturday night we had Chicken cacciatore and tonight the Lamb (but I used beef) slow-cooked tagine. Both were really good. That’s a lot of flavour in our weekend but both recipes got the thumbs up by Mr Fussy and he’ll be happy to have either meal again. Just not with the capers. It was the first time I’ve used capers and I can’t really say they wowed me. There was a hint of taste to them but nothing that made me think it really added something special to the meal. So no capers next time!

A bit more work to do but so far so good, given the rocky start to this project.

A bit more work to do but so far so good, given the rocky start to this project.

And in case you’re curious about the rugby balls and aeroplanes, Dave is fond of his rugby and Monday mornings are spent with the lads discussing the various games that were played. He also flies his own remote controlled planes and when the weather is suitable that’s where you’ll find him during his weekend, at the local flying club.


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Father’s Day

Royal Icing Transfers. I need to work on getting the consistency of the RI right.

Royal Icing Transfers. I need to work on getting the consistency of the RI right.

My Dad isn’t really one for all the fluff of a “celebration cake”. In some ways that meant I had an easy job for making something for Father’s Day, but what? What would I make that still looked special but didn’t require chocolate (Dad isn’t a fan) and still looked well presented.

All glazed up. Oma's Apple Tart.

All glazed up. Oma’s Apple Tart.

Having recently received my Chelsea Winter cookbook, At My Table, (it arrived the day we flew out to Canada) I browsed the pages and found something that seemed very much the type of food my Dad would like.

I’m sure Dad would have been quite happy with a block of cheese, or liquorice, or pineapple lumps, instead he got Chelsea’s Oma’s Dutch Apple Cake.

Start with a thin layer of batter

Start with a thin layer of batter

Add the sliced apple. And I added in freeze dried blueberries and some sultanas for good measure. Dad loves sultanas.

Add the sliced apple. And I added in freeze dried blueberries and some sultanas for good measure. Dad loves sultanas.

All ready for baking.

All ready for baking.

While Chelsea has shared a large number of her recipes on her own website, this particular one isn’t one of those. If you search you’ll find someone else has shared the recipe, but for copyright purposes I won’t.

When I phoned Dad to see that he’d be free the Sunday afternoon I ended the call with “tell Ruth she doesn’t need to make anything, we’ll bring afternoon tea”, and I knew those words would mean nothing.

As expected Natalie and I turned up with afternoon tea and Ruth had a table laid out with savouries and slices.

With a good dollop of cream. Pesto and cheese scones in the background.

With a good dollop of cream. Pesto and cheese scones in the background.

All that food was way too much (no surprises there!) and there was a heap left over. I had made far too many cookies so I dished those out and I left the leftover tart with Dad and Ruth to have with their dinner (which was leftover afternoon tea).

Pie anyone?

Pie anyone?

When we arrived home I got stuck into make Chelsea’s Cream Chicken Vegetable Pie. It isn’t a difficult recipe, but it does take a fair amount of time to get it all together, and that despite having prepared the carrots, mushrooms (yuck!), garlic and leek (the first time I touched one of those – had to ask for help how to prepare it!) during the morning.

Big chunks of chicken. I promise I tried to shred the chicken into "bite size pieces"

Big chunks of chicken. I promise I tried to shred the chicken into “bite size pieces”

The pie however was well worth the effort. Despite Mr Fussy’s misgivings about leek (which he’d never had, but on principle that it was a vegetable he didn’t like it) he enjoyed the pie. We did suggest that we might make it without the mushrooms next time. Neither of us are a fan but my MIL likes them so I kept them in, this time.

Dehydrator trays filled with cookies.

Dehydrator trays filled with cookies.

Going back to my cookies, I bought a dehydrator on returning to Christchurch and this was my first time trying it out with the cookies. It certainly helped speed up the drying time, but it didn’t quite eliminate the possibility of craters. You can see a couple of the letters have the tell-tale sign of a crater wanting to break free.

Some of the cookies

Some of the cookies

It was a very busy weekend in the kitchen for me. I’ve made Mum’s birthday cakes, ganache and royal icing in preparation for more sugar cookies to come.

During the week several packages arrived with more cake/cookie decorating things. One of those was a book on using cocoa butter to paint on sugar. The book has a number of different methods of painting and I enjoyed reading it Friday night. Now I’m itching to start painting. I can see a few week nights practicing all these new ideas I have running around in my head. In fact I’ve got so many ideas I’m almost not sure where to start! Better find somewhere.


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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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