London 2012 – Olympic Park

After an awesome night in Hyde Park for the official London 2012 Opening Ceremony party, we were keen to get more of an Olympic fix and decided to meet my friend Claire the next morning and head to Stratford to Olympic Park.

We knew that there would be a £10 entry fee just to get in to the Park (no events included), but what we didn’t know is that we had to pre book tickets online before arriving. There was no gate and no where we could pay £10 to get in. So many tourists were in the same boat as us, just wanting to get in to Olympic Park and just soak up the atmosphere knowing there was no chance of getting into any events. Not possible. We tried to book tickets on Claire’s phone there and then without success. Alas, it was not to be.

The view of the thousands of people trying to view Olympic Park

One of the security guards suggested we go up to level 3 of John Lewis, one of the UK’s biggest department stores, and from there we’ll see a view of the Olympic Park. Ok, that sounded like a good plan, so that’s what we did. And so did about 40 million other people, half of which I’m sure were not wearing deodorant. It was hot, stuffy and stinky. Let alone near impossible to get near the window to see anything.

Olympic Park

Zorba had enough after about 16 seconds and said he would wait for us outside. Claire and I shopped for London 2012 merchandise and didn’t find anything we liked in our size, so we left also about 10 minutes later.

We found Zorba waiting outside the Olympic Park tavern – I expected him to be in the tavern having a beer whilst waiting for us. Grumpily, Zorba said that it was £3 to get in, and then you had to pay for beers. Out of principal, Zorba refused to pay.

Near where Zorba was waiting for us, Claire spotted a little compact camera on the ground. Oh no! Someone has lost their camera! Shame.  Claire and I had a look at a few of the photos to see if there was anyone in them – and there was one lady of oriental descent wearing a purple top. We looked around the immediate area, couldn’t see anyone that resembled the lady in the photos and shrugged our shoulders. There was no way we’d find them in this crowd. Claire decided to hand the camera into the lady with the megaphone. Just then, I saw a lady with dark hair wearing a purple top, so I approached her to ask if she had lost her camera. Meanwhile Claire and Zorba were shouting at me, “Di what are you doing? It’s not her! You’re crazy!”.

The lady I approached seemed perplexed when I asked her if she had lost her camera. She said no and seemed a bit put out by my forthright nature. I apologised and said we had found a camera and that there was a lady that looked a bit like her in a purple top in some of the photos. I said sorry again and walked away. Claire and Zorba thought I was bonkers! Oh well, I tried.  I know I’d be devastated if it was me who lost a camera.

Three minutes later I get a tap on my shoulder by the very lady I was talking to.  She said it was her camera that she lost – after I walked away she checked her bag and her camera was missing. She described the camera case it was in and was so thankful I approached her. We told her that we handed it in to the megaphone lady. She was very thankful and said bye as she set off to collect her camera. You see! I was right! My good deed for the day done [pat on back].  Claire and Zorba were freaking out that I had managed to find the owner of the lost camera in the throngs of people that were milling around at the time.  I suppose it was uncanny!

Claire ordering her custom made magnum

We had a bit of a walk around the Westfield shopping complex in Stratford, which is huge and impressive. Every big brand has a shop there, Prada, LV, Versace, etc, as well as other quirkier shop fronts, such as Magnum ice creams. I know, why would Magnum have a shop front? Who knew that you could custom make your own magnum? You start with a ‘naked’ magnum, and then choose white, milk or dark chocolate coating, then up to three sprinkles – Claire chose almonds, ginger and something else I can’t remember. The only reason this gets a mention is because I’ve never seen it anywhere before. Claire said it was more of a gimmick than a fantastic ice cream eating experience.

It’s a little like the whole building dedicated to M&Ms in Leicester Square. Four floors of M&M characters, country colour-coded packets, even an M&M themed London bus was inside the M&M store! It was pretty cool. A total tourist gimmick but nonetheless, pretty cool.

Without event tickets, online entry tickets, or last minute mobile phone online entry tickets, we had no chance to get in to Olympic Park and nothing really more to do at Westfield.

And this ends our Olympic Park entry attempt. Unsuccessfully.

There is always a silver lining, right? Our silver lining was the great lunch and afternoon we had cycling around London. You can read about it in my next post.

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Umbrian antics

As we prepare to leave our Umbrian palace, Laguscello, we will all be doing so with fond, fond memories.  My top memories are:

  • Getting ridiculously lost trying to find the villa, despite having written instructions, verbal instructions from a local 2km away, and two GPS’s between the two cars.
  • Forgetting where we parked our car in Orvieto and the ordeal of trudging up and down the steaming hot cobbles streets trying to find it. If only we had walked up hill an extra 3 minutes, we would have found it and saved ourselves about two hours.

    Walter frustrated at not being able to find our parked car in Orvieto

  • Trying to find where to buy wood for the pizza oven.  Four different attempts to find the place with written directions proved fruitless.  We accidentally drove past it on our way to Assisi and we not able to find it again until it was our last day. I know, we’re hopeless!
  • The amazingly delicious simple dinners cooked on the coal BBQ at the villa and sitting around the big table in the garden sharing a meal together.
  • The stunning villa itself and the gorgeous views from every room.  It’s secluded, beautiful, so spacious.

    Laguscello

  • Zorba and I getting locked in our room – oh, I haven’t told you about this one.  We locked the door on our bedroom on our second night to prevent the niece and nephew waking us up at 5am, only to find the lock had jammed and we were trapped inside. Nothing could free us.  We were rescued the handyman neighbour in the next house who broke in with a crow bar.
  • Seeing fields and fields of bright yellow sunflowers in Umbria amongst rolling hills of wheat borders by pencil pines, and how they looked blurry when Zorba was driving at warp 9 speed along the A1.
  • The impressive and imposing vista of driving past Orvieto perched on top of the hill with its Duomo creating a striking skyline.

    Orvieto

  • Shopping for food with mum and dad and watching them be excited and amazed at the produce and the prices.
  • Tartufo or truffles and Cinghale! Wild boar salami is amazing.
  • Obviously, hanging out with my family and spending lots and lots and lots and lots of quality time together in the villa, in the car, in Orvieto, in Assisi… ;)

Ciao ciao Umbria.  Next stop Taormina in Sicilia. Bring on the seaside chic x

Pharmacy convenience Italian style

This is the first time I have seen a pharmacy vending machine. Quite a good idea really and I imagine it would be very convenient, especially in small towns where there are limited shopping hours.

Pharmacy vending machine

In this vending machine there were antiseptic wipes, pain killers (such as panadol equivalent), a pregnancy test (in case of an emergency?), condoms, sunblock, nappies, and toothbrushes just to name a few items.

Pretty cool!

 

Lightest backpack ever

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I don’t think I told you the results of my packing efforts 13 days ago. A new record has been set! I am very pleased to report that my backpack weighed in at just 15.7kg.

Whilst 15.7kg may still seem like a lot to some, let’s put it in context; my toiletry bags usually weigh almost 10kg on their own!

What’s changed this time? I have severely and ruthlessly limited my lotions and potions and been very strict with my shoe choice, with only sandals, thongs (flip flops), and ballerina flats making it in. My casual runner type Merrils I wore on the plane.

Am I missing anything? Yes a few key things, but that’s ok. The fab trip I’m having makes up for all of that! Best if all, I have room to add new purchases!

Speaking of which, my shopping stats are the lowest they have ever been. Almost two weeks since I left home and I have bought two scarves and mum bought me a t-shirt last night that I saw and liked. The only explanation I have for this new and unexpected trend is that I knew the Rome July sales were starting soon and for those that know me well, they know I really hate to pay full price for anything. It’s my Italian blood! So I waited patiently for them to start and we left Rome for Umbria the day the sales started. My shopping stars are aligned differently this trip…

In this pic you can see two weights on the airport check in scales. Zorba did remarkably well also beating me by 400grams with his backpack weighing just 15.3kg.

Italian supermarkets

Oh how I LOVE Italian supermarkets!  Most of them (not all mind you), have the most fantastic produce, delis, and butchers.

Fresh produce in the Umbrian supermarket

Supermarket shopping when I travel is something I love to do. It gives a real insight into the sorts of foods people eat, what is cheap, what is expensive, and what is readily available. For example, when we shopped for our stay at our Umbrian Palace, Laguscello (near Orvieto), two-minute noodles where nowhere to be found.  And I think this is a good thing.

The variety of tomatoes available in the supermarket is enough to make me want to live here, and the price of them is enough to get Walter excited about being here!  I’ve seen tomatoes from Euro 0.99 cents per kilo and the most expensive I’ve seen have been Euro 2.60 per kilo.

A 1.5 litre bottle of natural mineral water at Eurospar, one of the bigger supermarkets in the area costs Euro 0.15.  That’s about A$0.18!!  18 cents!  We pay ten times that in Australian supermarkets!  We are getting totally ripped off!

My contribution to dinner, Caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella bought from the supermarket – OMG yum!

Proscuito crudo (parma ham) cost Euro 7.00 per kilo.  In Australia, we pay a minimum of A$40.00 per kilo for the locally produced proscuito. Imported proscuito costs A$65 per kilo and more.  It’s hard to believe.  And people think Europe is expensive….

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Two cappuccini and a plain croissant cost Euro 2.60 or A$3.12.  And to think in Australia we pay more than that just for one cappuccino!

Eating out is also so much cheaper than Perth.  Last night for example, Zorba and I had an amazing three-course meal with house red wine for Euro 50, or A$60.  In Perth, it would have cost twice that without a doubt.

It may be expensive to travel to Italy, but once you are here, it’s cheap.

The only thing that isn’t cheap is firewood.  Two sacks of firewood cost Euro 25!  That is heaps!  Still, to be able to make our own pizza dough and cook them in our own wood-fired oven is going to be fantastic.  Can’t wait til we do that tomorrow night!

 

 

Roma e Campo dei Fiori markets

Our apartment is so lovely and spacious and has air con – an absolute necessity in Rome’s sweltering July heat.

Our spacious apartment in the historical centre of Rome

There was never a question of what we were going to do on our first morning in Rome.

Obviously, nothing happens before my morning cappuccino and we love to stand at a bar and have it like the locals do.

Zorba’s other nickname could be Tomatino because he loves tomatoes so much. A visit to the Campo dei Fiori food markets was non-negotiable.

The markets offer so much colour, great fresh produce smells, and of course delicious ripe deep red tomatoes.

Campo dei Fiori markets

The locals ask questions to vendors about what is tasting good right now and buying their daily needs – this is how we should shop for food.

There’s a great deli at Campo dei Fiori that we visited every day we were in Rome in 2010.  It’s still serving a massive selection of deli good. We stocked up on marinated anchovies, olives, proscuito, buffalo mozzarella, and bread.

After taking the groceries “home”, we hit the shops along via Del Corso.  We walked for five hours, looking at shoes and clothes here and there.  Neither of us bought anything which is probably a good thing because I later found out that Rome goes on sale on 7 July!

Inside the Pantheon

We visited the Pantheon, Piazza Del Popolo, Piazza Navona, Largo Argentina, among other places.  The Pantheon is over 2000 years old and even with all the technology today, they say they could replicate this building. It is an engineering marvel and so well designed with the hole in the dome that lets light in as well as the rain – but that’s ok because there are drainage holes on the marble floor.

Piazza Navona

The beauty this time around is that we’ve already done most of the tourist sight-seeing, so we can just chill out (or rather melt!) in Rome.

Pantheon

We grabbed a gelato and almost limped back to our apartment on our tired, tired feet. A little rest later and we were ready to head out for ‘la passiagiata’ – the evening stroll – before meeting friends for dinner.

FACT FILE

We booked our apartment through Unusual Rome and it’s called Argento Giulia on via Giula, 179 and it cost Euro 150 per night. It is also listed on Worldwide Accom website

cid:406495712@12062008-0059
www.unusualrome.com
via Paolo Emilio, 7
00192 Roma
Tel +39 348 3296384
Skype: unusual.rome
Info@unusualrome.com

Dubai

After a long flight leaving home in Perth at 4am, we arrived in steaming hot Dubai some 14 hours later at 13:00 local time. Thank God for tamazapan, they thankfully knocked me out for six hours.  My luggage weighed a record low of just 15.7kg.  So light for me! Proud of my packing efforts x

We were met at the airport and transferred to our four star digs for the night, the lovely Qamardeen Hotel near the Dubai Mall in the old town.

Dubai as a place is surreal.  Pavements are made with granite and marble, everything is clean and neat and it feels so functional and efficient. The hotel shuttle bus took us to the Mall of the Emirates, the famous mall with the indoor ski field.  Hard to believe people are skiing inside a mall when it is 40+ degrees outside!

Ski slope, Mall of the Emirates

Zorba was quick off the shopping mark and bought himself a pair of polarised Oakley sunnies on sale for $170 – good shopping from Zorbs!  My purchases = nil. A first for me! I wanted to, but knowing I have a month ahead of carrying it all on my back was all the motivation I needed to keep my wallet shut.

After a short rest in the hotel, we ventured out for dinner at the adjacent  Al Manzil Hotel at the Courtyard restaurant, set in a gorgeous erm, courtyard setting with trees and candles. Both of us were keen to feast on traditional Arabic cuisine and chose the tasting menu at $45pp.  Way too much food for two people, however delicious.

Mezze

A huge mezze spread that included a labne, pickles, Kuwait lobster salad and calamari in spicy sauce.

The main course of gigantic prawns and really scrumptious chicken in like a tikka sauce almost took me to bursting point.

The yummy nutty custard like dessert had to be eaten, but the Arabic biscuits were taken in a doggy bag – much to Zorba’s angst…”why do we need to take these?”. Yes, yes, he was probably right.

Main course

After dinner we braved the almost suffocating heat and walked around to the sensational water fountain light show – which happens every 30mins. We saw it twice. It was spectacular.

The sweet smell of apple tobacco filled the air as hundreds of people enjoyed  a shisha in one of the many the outdoor cafes that line the waterway.

I couldn’t resist, so once back at our oasis, the Qamardeen Hotel, I look my trusty MacBookAir out by the pool and here I am updating this blog whilst having a shisha, and I’m loving it!  Zorba is catching up on zzzz’s in the room.

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We are knackered, no doubt about it. And in hindsight, our stop over to Dubai might have been better on our way home when we could shop shop shop!  Ah, well, never mind. We have had a brilliant first day of holidays.

Next stop Milano tomorrow, where after a six hour flight, we will catch a train to Monterosso on the picturesque Cinque Terre.  A presto!

FACT FILE

Al Manzil Hotel & Qamardeen Hotel
Emaar Boulevard, The Old Town, Downtown Dubai
Tel: +971 4 428 6888
Our room cost A$170 per night.  Dinner cost us about $120 for two, including a beer each.

Beautiful Barcelona

After a horrendous 17 hour journey, we were in Barcelona, one of my all time favourite cities (out of Italy and Australia!).  It has been ten years between visits to this city and I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with this great place.

We stayed in two hotels in Barcelona, the first one was Cuitat Vella www.hotelcuitatvella.com on Tallers 66, just near La Ramblas, where we stayed for three nights.  The hotel was 3-star and almost brand new.  And we get free bottled water, as much as we want! Yay!  Our triple room for Hubs, Madeline her mother, and myself was too small.  We were forever tripping over ourselves.  The shower was fantastic and the bathrooms lovely and new.

We were all dead on our first day – too tired from over night travel without any sleep.   I had three hours to kill before Hubs and her mum Madeline arrived from the airport, and I couldn’t sleep because our hotel room wasn’t ready.  I went for a walk along La Ramblas and the memories of my previous trips to Barcelona came flooding back. It was just how I remembered!  I had a delicious coffee with chocolate mousse at the famous Cafe de L’Opera on La Ramblas – oh how I’ve missed good coffee!!  I bought some fridge magnets to add to my ever growing collection, and had a look in a few shops. I was LOVING being back in Europe. 

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When Hubs and Madeline arrived, we all went for a walk and found a restaurant / tapas bar off La Ramblas and had some lunch Aaka Dinay on carrer Petxina.  Delicious selection of tapas – spanish omelette, baby octopus, garlic prawns, bread with rubbed tomato and a prawn and mango salad.  YUM! 

For dinner, Madeline decided to stay at the hotel and sleep.  Hubs and I went for a big walk around the Gothic quarter before deciding to eat at a restaurant on La Ramblas.  We knew it was touristy, but we both fancied sitting somewhere lively and watching the world go past.  We shared paella and it was ok, not rubbish and not award winning. 

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Day two was a big sight-seeing day on the tourist bus. We went everywhere – all over the city. We chose to get off at the Park Guella – Gaudi’s famous park.  It was lovely and Madeline really enjoyed it.  We also caught the bus to the beaches to check them out – the city beaches didn’t exist last time I was in Barcelona.  They were nice and we made a plan to spend at least one day at the beach.  The port was really nice too with loads of shops and nice walk way to get there.   Barcelona is really a beautiful city and we loved the sightseeing.

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For dinner, we walked around a bit and couldn’t decide where to eat, so we went back to where we had lunch, Aaka Dinya.  Hubs and Madeline had paella and I had veal.  Both our meals were really tasty.

Day three was dedicated to my favourite sport, shopping!  We caught the metro to Diagonal Mar, a big shopping complex in the financial district.  I didn’t buy too much, but did get some essential items – a pair of cotton cargo pants, a sports t-shirt, and an impractical pair of cool white light cargo style pants.  They were so cheap and look good – and as Hubs said, I’d keep them clean.  Hubba got a good deal on a pair of Geox shoes, great for walking, and Madeline bought a present for someone back home.   We were worn out after shopping and needed a siesta. 

Maybe it’s been ten years since I’ve been to Barcelona – and I still remember the name of a restaurant I had an unbelievable meal in – Irati.   I looked up the name on trip advisor and was delighted to find it still exists and even more delighted to find that it had a very good rating on the website.  That’s where we went for tapas, Irati on cadenal Casanas, 17 – and it was delicious!  It’s only a small narrow place but it’s always packed and it has a small restaurant out the back.  We decided to go there to have dinner one night, maybe on Madeline’s birthday on 14th Aug.

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Day four was when we had to move hotels and checked into Hotel Atlantis, around the corner from where we were.  As we suspected, our room wasn’t ready, but we had prepared for that and off we went to the beach.  The beach was easy to get to, only a few stops on the metro, and it was lovely to lie out in the sun again and swim in the Med.  We had a yummy lunch by the beach, seafood of course, in the afternoon.

Dinner was in Picasso’s first studio – which is now a restaurant called Classic Gotic, on carrer de la Plata in the Gothic Quarter (Merce area). I was excited to be eating there as this is the restaurant my spanish dive instructor in Dahab told me to go to.  Yay! We found it and were about to have a nice meal.  For the occasion I ordered a bottle of house cava, or Spanish champagne, and was delighted that Madeline was enthusiastic about sharing it with me. Hubs doesn’t drink and I was happy someone else was with us so I could share a bottle!

Roast pork ribs served with vegetables was dinner and mine was delicious!  The meat fell off the bone and was very tender and tasty.  At less than 9 euro, it was cheap too.  Happy days.

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Our last two days in Barca (as the football team is affectionately known as – Barsa), were spent doing whatever we wanted. I had my legs waxed standing up – a world first for me.  She used sugar instead of wax and it took ten minutes – with good results. At 11 euro, I was stoked – cheaper than back home.  I also went to the post office, did some shopping, etc etc.  I bought the coolest shoes!  Vespa adidas Italian runners!  I love them!

It was a nice relaxing day. Hubs and Madeline went shopping too and they had a great day together.

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Finally we had tickets to the traditional Flamenco dancing show on at Cordobes, supposedly the best flamenco dancing show in the city.  At 37 euro each, my expectations were quite high.  The show was good, the dancing done with proper vigour and a lot of passion, but some how, it didn’t meet my expectations and I couldn’t help but feel a tad disappointed.   Madeline enjoyed herself and I was really happy she had.  She was also over the moon because she found some Dr Scholl shoes she loved, that are super comfy, and on sale!  Three ticks from Madeline! Style, comfort, and a bargain!

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It rained!! First time I have seen rain in a couple of months!  I am never happy when it rains, but it was nice that the city was washed, so to speak.  We found a little tapas restaurant on our way back to the hotel and didn’t have much – some olives, prosciutto like ham, and some bread with tomato. That was enough for us.

Our last day in Europe – Madeline’s birthday.  I was boring and went to the post office, did some washing, and a spot of shopping in between.  Madeline and Hubs did some sightseeing and caught the cable car to a nice park.  They had a great day!  Tonight is dinner at Irati and I can’t wait!!

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Tomorrow nice and early, we fly to Quito in South America!!  A new continent, a new country, and new adventures await! Hurrah!

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I’m in London town…

Ah London.  It always feels like I’m going home when I arrive at LHR. Everything is so familiar, so easy.  Everything works.  Everything functions. Everyone understands  me.  It’s easy, which is just as well because I was feeling so so so down after saying good bye to Zorba.  Thank God for my friend Kath in London. Her and I have been great friends since I first moved to London and we worked together in 1996 and it was so good to see a friendly face feeling as blue as I did. 

Kath’s basement flat in Baywater is like my second home.   I used to hang out there all the time when I lived in London and have stayed with her and her Italian hubby Fiorenzo several times now. They are great and always make me feel so welcome.  And we always eat really well there too!  Fiorenzo is a typical Italian in that good food is the most important thing – and Kath has become like that too.   We spent the first night in London hanging out at their place, chatting, and eating – mmm beautiful slow roast pork belly with a salad of radishes and wilted rocket.  I would have paid for that meal at a restaurant is was so good!   We also drank – the three of us polished off two bottles of prosecco, a bottle of Nero D’Avola (sicilian red), another half a bottle of Nero D’Avola, several shots of grappa and an amaretto. No wonder I was feeling a bit foggy the next day!

London really turned on the weather for me – NOT.  Rain, cloud…It felt weird to have to wear warm clothes again after sweltering in Italia. 

I met Donna and Caroline Mounchaguy who I used to work with at 6pm in Sloan Square. Donna took us to a swanky place for drinks and dinner, which was nice.  One of her friends Dr Steve came and met us after dinner. It was a fun night. The funniest thing was standing outside having drinks.  The pavement was marked with a white line and everyone standing outside with a drink had to be within the white line. It was funny watching the beef cake bouncers telling everyone to step inside the line all time.  So different to Italia.  Imagine trying to get Italians to do that?! It would never happen!

Bayswater was my old ‘hood’ in London and I know the area really well. It was great to walk around there again, visiting some of my favourite shops. I also went walking through Hyde Park which is one of my most favourite places in London. It feels like a sanctuary away from the bustle of the big city – big old oak trees, pretty flower gardens, people out enjoying life jogging with their dogs, or lazing on the grass.  I love it .

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Donna took me to a place that she describes as Libararchi’s lounge room.  Beach Blanket Babylon on Ledbury Rd in Notting Hill was so ostentatious!  Big chandeliers, gold gilt boarders on everything, ornately decorated bar, staircase and toilets, and full of ‘beautiful rich people’.  Put it this way, a cheap bottle of wine on the wine list and one bloody mary came to A$64.  Who cares? This was a one off!  We didn’t stay long – Donna had friends at another bar at Sloan Sq and I wasn’t really in the party mood, so we said good bye at 9.30pm and I went and hung out with Kath and Fiorenzo.

The next day Kath and I spoilt ourselves with a manicure and pedicure and we went to Ottolenghi in Notting Hill to pick up some gourmet takeaway salads for lunch. YUM!

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Leaving London was hard too.  Kath Taylor has been a best buddy for ages and I really hope she and Fiorenzo can come to Perth next year for our wedding prequel.  Yes, no wedding, just a wedding prequel (engagement) celebration instead.  Please please I hope they can come!

Next stop, Egypt with Hubba!  

 

Roma, nostra bella vacanza e’ finito

After a most wonderful week around Tuscany, it was time to return to Roma.  Zorba drove the Fiat cinquecento back to Firenze, with Tom Tom giving us easy directions to the car hire office, and we trudged in 35 degree heat in high humidity with all our luggage to the train station.  Our train to Rome wasn’t for 1.45 hours, but we couldn’t leave our luggage at the station like we had planned because there was a strike.  Ugh! How annoying.  We sat at the station and waited for our train and got to Rome without incident.

Our apartment we rented for our last five days together, and in Italia, was very close to Ponte Sisto, the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Tiber River between Rome historical centre and Trastevere, my old neighbourhood.  It was tiny, cute, functional, but really quite tiny. At least we had a teeeny balcony so we could sit outside, and more importantly, open up the place to let some air in.

On our first night back in the eternal city, Zorba insisted I go out with my lovely Roman friend Cathy while he goes on a ‘giro’ (walk around).  For Zorba’s giro, he struggles and perseveres with the world’s tiniest iron and ironing board to press his best linen shirt.  He dresses up in his best clothes to go out without me!!   Greeks!

Cat and I had a fab night.  We went for a drink in Trastevere and I met some of her friends, and then we went to a trendy place for dinner.  The surroundings were ace – a mish-mash of antique furniture and decorations.  Lots of retro objects too – and all of them were for sale.  They were expensive, super expensive, but cool too look at. The food was not much chop and not worth a mention, but the waiter was cute and Cat enjoyed talking to him about his studies – the waiter was a screen play writer.  Anyway, it was just awesome to catch up with her and have some quality girl time.

The next day we went to our favourite place, the markets at Campo de Fiori.  Of course Zorba has to buy tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella from the great deli they have there.  Cat picked us up at midday to take us to the beach at midday.  The beach was about a 45 min drive. It was sooooo hot in Rome that going to the beach was the best idea.  There was sand (yay) but the water was not that nice – bit murky – but it was still nice to be by the sea on such a hot day.

With my tan topped up, it was approaching 7pm and almost time for aperitivo.  This beach we were at has a famous aperitivo.  Barbara and her lovely Polish friend Suza joined us.   The lettini (sun lounges) were packed away and bit white sheets with cushions and low coffee tables were set up – more than a hundred of them. As the sunset over the ocean, a male genie-looking guy hits a big brass gong once the sun has completely gone down.  His little female sidekick does some dance moves with fire sticks to give the gonger a sense of importance.  The sunset was lovely and sitting altogether on the beach on a big white sheet was also really cool.

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Aperitivo in Italia means drinks with some food – snacks or grazing plates.  The food came out at the beach and 2000 Italians turned into 2000 seagulls, swamping the food tables, almost stampeding on each other.  What for?  Some crappy cold pasta with pesto, a farro (grain) dish that looked like bird seed, and a rice salad dish. The food looked so average, and the fact that so many of the Italian seagulls left food on their paper plates shows that the food wasn’t good.  We decided to enjoy our mojitos instead and go somewhere else to eat.  After trying about six restaurants by the beach that were all full, we finally found one that would take a table of five.  We had a really fun waiter who turned our impatience and frustration into a fun night.

Sunday was shopping day!  Zorba and I met Cat at Termini station and we caught the bus to a factory outlet mall.  We were there from about 11am until 5pm.  I bought some cool tan coloured sandals with an ankle cuff, a Replay dress and tank, some travel tops, and a couple of other bits.  Zorba went off on his own and he also did well. He bought himself some really cool white cargo shorts and a couple of sports tops for the gym.

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After shopping for Australia, where I exercised EXTREME control, we went to an area called Testaccio – the next suburb further out from Trastevere.  Cat arranged for us to watch the World Cup Final at a cool pub called Testaccio on the Rocks.  We got there about an hour before kickoff, so decided to eat.  Barbara and Suza were there too and we chose to eat at the restaurant next door to the pub called Pecorino (little sheep).   We were short on time so just dived into mains – Zorba had a cabonara – the absolute dead-set best cabonara I have ever had.  The sauce was so orange – too orange for just egg yolk, so I asked the waitress how they made the sauce.  She said that the chickens were fed food with tumeric, so their yolks were extra orange in colour.  It was the flavour that won me over. Soooo amazing!  I had straccetto – sliced beef cooked in balsamic and served with rocket, a traditional roman dish.  Mine was also delicious.  I was very VERY happy with dinner.

Now it was time for the game.  The pub was ram packed. The game was good fun – initially I was the only one cheering for the Dutch – everyone else was going for Spain.  As the game went on, I did a really Italian thing and changed sides!  The Dutch weren’t playing a style of football I like and it felt like they were trying to cheat.  Anyway, the whole pub was ecstatic that Spain won. 

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On Monday we got a great surprise when we learned that Simone Woodard and Henrietta Farrell were in Rome!  Their flight to Croatia got cancelled at the last minute and they took a flight to Rome instead and from there were heading to the beautiful island of Capri on the Amalfi coast.  We arranged to meet up in the evening for dinner and Cat joined us too.  We had dinner at a restaurant called Ponte Sisto and had a pretty good meal.  It wasn’t as good as it was when Cat and I had lunch there a couple of years prior, but it was a most enjoyable night.  I’m so glad I got to catch up with the girls in Rome, I didn’t think I was going to.  Again, Zorba was a trooper having another night out with all girls.  It was a lovely evening.  It was really hard saying good bye to Cat – who knows how long it will be before we see each other again.  She is a great great girl and I loved hanging out with her.

Our last day in Rome was spent shopping.  We went to a Vespa shop and Zorba bought a motorbike helmet and jacket – he plans on riding my Vespa around while I’m away.  I posted a big box of stuff back home that I don’t need, including some shoes I’d bought. Zorba and I had our last dinner together at Da Giggetto, a roman restaurant in the Jewish quarter. Again, when Cat and I ate there a couple of years beforehand, we had a faultless meal.  On this particular night, it wasn’t so great…and a bit expensive.  It was a shame that we didn’t’ finish on a high from a top meal.  But that’s ok.  Zorba and I still had a nice night.

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Our last day in Roma was hard.  Too hard.  Too emotional.  Saying good bye to Zorba at the airport was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I really don’t ever want to have to do it again.  There weren’t just tears, there were floods of tears and I spent the hour after he left in the toilets trying to calm myself down and walking around in a daze.  I tried to make myself feel better by buying the latest little handbag from the Gucci store, but it didn’t work.  The only thing that did was make me feel guilty, and get my bank account defrauded…the store obviously had a crook working for them or a skimming device on their credit card machine.  What a hassle!

It was really hard to get excited about going to London after leaving my future husband….