Italy - The Potato Chick

Rome, Italy

In a sentence...ancient ruins and pizzerias.

Food we loved...traditional Roman carbonara at Da Enzo Al 29. I thought the addition of pigs cheek sounded gross – I was mistaken.

Rome was always going to be a shock to the system after the relaxing country lifestyle we had settled into in Tuscany. I was expecting to find a huge gritty city that I didn’t like. To make matters worse, weather reports provided by Steve indicating that it was going to be very hot while we were there. However, just like Athens, Rome exceeded my expectations.

Rome is full of interesting things to look at (old buildings, ruins, churches, fountains, crazy 80 year old buskers) and so we spent a lot of time walking the streets and stopping to look at whatever took our fancy. We enjoyed a free walking tour and managed to see some of the “essential” sights such as the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Unfortunately the Trevi fountain is currently undergoing repair work and so it was virtually unrecognisable. Not that the lack of water in there stopped crazed tourists from flinging coins over the fence onto the heads of the hapless workmen welding in the 36 degree sun!

Each day’s wanderings were punctuated by a delicious lunch from a deli – a crusty bread roll filled with cheese and whatever meat you felt like that day, perhaps prosciutto or salami or porchetta. We were also lucky enough to catch up with Steve and Fi for two more dinners.

We spent half days perusing the Vatican museums and the Colosseum (and surrounding sights such as Palatino hill). While both of these were great experiences, my favourite place (by far) was St Peter’s Basilica. We visited towards the end of the day when the queue was small which meant we did not have to share it with a thousand other tourists. What an amazing place – it is so huge and overwhelming.

On our final night we had the most divine meal at Da Enzo Al 29 in Trastavere. Trastavere is a trendy suburb separated from the rest of Rome by the Tiber river. It’s totally picturesque; filled with good restaurants, cobbled laneways, pink and red buildings and shady trees. I had read about Da Enzo Al 29 in one of the travel blogs I follow and I knew we just had to go there.

It took me two attempts to make a booking but it was absolutely worth it. We started our meal with fried artichokes. Apparently a speciality in the Jewish ghetto area, these were amazing and tasted just like fried potato. We shared the carbonara mentioned above and meatballs for main course. The meatballs seriously melted in your mouth, hands down the best I’ve ever tasted. And of course for dessert  - what else but tiramisu?

After four days and nights in Rome we left with a new appreciation for one of Europe’s greatest cities (and a heightened anticipation for England’s cooler climate).

Next...London, England.

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Posted 19 June 2014

Tuscany, Italy

In a sentence...five days of bliss.

Food we loved...home cooked dinners accompanied by good cheap red wine, Aperol spritz and great company.

As soon as we pulled up at our cute little apartment just out of Montepulciano we knew we were on to a winner. The view from our backyard was stunning - a classic Tuscan countryside money shot.


The only noise was the gentle tingling of the bells attached to the sheep on the property (and occasionally, I must admit, the sound of said sheep attempting to make baby sheep) . We were a little peckish after our long drive from Florence but apart from that we were totally content. We were contemplating a trip to the supermarket when our landlady popped over with a complementary “snack” she had made for us – local salami, cheese, honey and a delicious concoction of bread crumbs, tomato, onion and basil. All accompanied by a bottle of local red wine!

We had come to Tuscany to spend time with our good friends Steve and Fi. As they have been based in London for the last two years and we plan to be on the road for another ten months, it was a rare opportunity for us to spend some time together discovering a fabulous part of Italy. We soon settled into a wonderfully relaxing daily routine –

  • Wake up at our leisure;
  • Head out exploring in our (gutless) hire car for a few hours. One day we had a fabulous lunch of cheese and meat platters at a nearby winery. Another day we stopped at another local winery for a comprehensive wine tasting before stopping for lunch in Pienza. On the other two days we drove to other Tuscan towns to explore, have lunch and gelati.
  • Return to our accommodation in the late afternoon, just in time for a nap (me) or some reading in the sun (everyone else);
  • A few pre-dinner drinks whilst enjoying the fabulous view;
  • Home-cooked dinner and plenty of catching up.

We visited Siena, Montepulciano (our “home” town), San Gimignano, and Pienza. All were very cute although Pienza was probably my favourite while San Gimignano had the best gelati. But none of the towns we visited could beat the view which we had from our own backyard. We were always at our happiest when we returned “home” at the end of each day.

Not even a nasty dose of hay fever could prevent Tuscany from overtaking Venice as my favourite destination so far.

Next...Rome, Italy.

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Posted 19 June 2014

Florence, Italy

In a sentence...a gorgeous Italian city.

Food we loved...peanut gelati.

We recently celebrated 50 days on the road and were surprised to realise that we had spent all but 8 of those days on the coast. We really love the delicious seafood, gorgeous views and laidback lifestyle that you tend to find in coastal destinations. But what better place to start our time venturing “inland” than in Florence in the beautiful region of Tuscany?

On the way to Florence we stopped at Pisa to climb the Leaning Tower, a fabulous wedding present we had received from Nick’s sister Nadine. Some of you may recall that I mentioned my fear of heights a few posts ago...

I got to the top easily enough as the stairs were enclosed but once we were on the upper balcony on the side leaning towards the ground I must admit I was freaking out (just a little bit). Luckily the awesome views calmed my nerves. That, and watching tourists doing ridiculous poses involving the tower and various body parts. Another item ticked off the bucket list!

We arrived in Florence and were pretty surprised to discover that our “hostel” was really just an old lady’s apartment. Several hilarious conversations ensued over the next few days as she did not speak any English and our knowledge of Italian is restricted to food related words and numbers.

We explored the many historical sights of the city during two free walking tours and a trip to the top of a little hill which offered fabulous views of Florence and the countryside surrounding it.

We finished off one of our days with a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the infamous Statue of David. This had been on my agenda for a long time as it is one of my Mum’s most vivid memories of her trip to Europe many years ago. And no wonder. Up close, the statue is just astounding. I really cannot adequately put it into words other than to say that photos (and the replicas found elsewhere in the city) cannot do it justice.

On our final day in Florence we did quite a lot of climbing – we climbed both the bell tower and the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence’s awe inspiring cathedral). Both climbs rewarded us with 360 degree views of Florence.

Once we had finished our exploring we could only conclude that Florence really is a beautiful city from all angles.

Next...Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy.


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Posted 10 June 2014

The Cinque Terre, Italy

In a introduction to Italy’s natural beauty.

Food we loved...freshly cooked seafood in a paper cone accompanied by a bottle of local wine and eaten at the water’s edge. It doesn’t get much better than this.

When you are planning a trip the size of ours there is no shortage of advice as to the many places you simply must visit. When that advice comes from a “local”, you tend to take extra special notice. So when Nick’s Italian friend Stefano recommended the Cinque Terre our interest was piqued. We looked into it a little further and were thrilled to discover the area’s proximity to Pisa, Florence and Tuscany – all destinations which were already pencilled into our itinerary.

The Cinque Terre (“five towns” in Italian) is the collective term given to five villages located very close together on the beautiful Italian coast overlooking the Ligurian Sea: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Each village is different but they are all utterly charming with hillsides filled with colourful houses, seafood restaurants, gelati shops and stunning sea views. To top it off, the villages are surrounded by vineyards.

We stayed at Riomaggiore and although it is the smallest village it had everything we needed to have a great time. On the first day we hiked from Riomaggiore to Manarola and on the second day we hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso. This allowed us to get our hearts pumping, see some gorgeous views and explore four of the five villages. On our final night we topped off a fabulous few days with an unexpected catch up with our good friends Steve and Fi.

We loved the Cinque Terre and so we left feeling disappointed that we won’t have the time to visit more of Stefano’s recommended Italian destinations.

Next...Florence, Italy.

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Posted 6 June 2014

Venice, Italy

In a favourite place so far.

Food we loved...lots of prosciutto.

Our time in Venice began with the biggest spew I have ever seen.

Thankfully, the spew did not originate from either of us. Rather, we were unfortunate witnesses to it while within the confines of the local bus from Venice’s main train station to our accommodation. It was certainly an unforgettable start to what would be our favourite destination so far.

Having handed over our remaining water supplies to the poor sick girl, we gratefully exited the bus to the delights of fresh air. We were staying at Camping Rialto where we had rented a “chalet” which, at an Italian camping ground, means a cubby house with two tiny beds in it. Not that we spent much time there - we were far too busy exploring.

Our first full day started with a bus trip to the outer suburbs so that we could buy a replacement camera. As you will see from the pictures below the camera is quite an upgrade on our old one and Nick has been loving himself sick with the panorama setting.

Once the camera was purchased we spent virtually all of our waking hours wandering the islands and getting totally and utterly lost. When we got tired from all the walking we’d stop for some people watching and a Campari spritz or gelati. Even after two and a half days it seemed that around every corner was something new and we wondered how long you would have to live there to truly know your way around.

We really enjoyed a boat trip to the islands of Murano (famous for hand blown glass), Burano (famous for lace making) and Torcello (where I paid 1.50€ to use the toilet – outrageous!). The glass blowing in Murano was amazing, we watched a blob of hot glass become a horse with less than one minute’s manipulation by the glass maker. While Nick was less impressed with the lace making on Burano, it was a really cute fishing town where all the buildings are painted in different bright colours. Once we were back in Venice proper we made our first momentous purchase of the trip – a beautiful hand blown glass piece which we cannot wait to display in our future home.

Another highlight of Venice was that it marked our first foray into the wonderful world of Italian food. I’m beginning to think it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Italy. Even at the train station we had a delicious crunchy Panini filled with copious amounts of prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella. Yes you read that correctly – at the train station. So different to home where train station food is to be avoided at all costs!

After three nights in Venice I was really sad to leave and very glad that we will soon be returning to Italy. Hopefully there won’t be any illnesses next time!

Next...Nice, France

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Posted 2 June 2014