Hidemi Sugino

Who is Hidemi Sugino? In Japan, he is revered as a master cake maker, famed for his mousse cakes and being the first in Asia to win many prestigious awards, but outside of the country, I’m not too sure how many people have heard of him. This may be because unlike other patissiers he has not expanded his cake empire overseas, choosing instead to have a small simple store down an unassuming street in Ginza. Furthermore, almost as an anathema to current social media trends, no photos are allowed of the cake display or dining room. Instead, the cakes are plated and eaten in a sort of sedate and hushed reverie.

In spite of this, it seems that people were in know and ready for cakes at their opening time of 11. When we arrived 10 minutes before opening there was already a small line outside. We were each ushered into the store to pick cakes for dine in, take away or both. I highly recommend dining in because there is a selection of cakes which can only be had in the café. According to the staff, they are too delicate to be transported. Of the cakes that can actually be taken away, even then, it is recommended that most of them only travel for an hour or so, to preserve their integrity.

The cakes are well and truly tiny. Even the super slim Japanese girls sitting on either side of me ordered at least 2 cakes each. If I was feeling a little bit more ambitious I probably could have ordered up to 3 or 4 cakes for myself but for now, we stuck with 4 to share.

DSC09790

The Ambroise (Left) is arguably the cake that made Hidemi Sugino famous. A dark chocolate glaze and tempered chocolate rounds cover a delicate multi-layered cake. The slick chocolate makes this cake look incredibly rich. In a way it is, the cherry taste of dark chocolate seems a little overwhelming at first. However, it gives way to a much gentler berry and pistachio flavours and layers, well suited to a Japanese palette that doesn’t enjoy things that are too sweet.

The Sous Bois (Right) was Ryan’s favourite. Embedded into this cake are more berries! The sourness of the berries offset the sweetness of the mousse, making each mouthful a surprise. It also goes without saying but each of the fruits on all of the cakes tasted exceptional. In particular, the raspberries weren’t tart, and instead the flowery, almost perfume like taste of raspberry exploded in my mouth.

DSC09791

The Everest (Right) was more to my tastes. It’s easy to see where this cake gets its name from. The peak of white cream at the top was sweet and soft. In fact, I would hazard to say that eating this was akin to eating a cloud. Every bite, soft and airy, with a little bit of juicy berry flavour from the hidden juice inside. Ryan commented that it tasted like a very soft and subtle cheesecake.

I thought that it would be impossible to top but the Sicily (Left) was even softer than the Everest! A strong pistachio flavour permeated the outer layer of green mousse. This is tempered by the peach and raspberry mouse inside. The texture was halfway between cream and panna cotta. I think I detected a light alcohol taste in the sponge at the bottom that made me smile a little. The taste of pistachio and alcohol definitely reminded me of southern Italy.

The beverages come at rather eye-watering prices. My single cup of apple tea was 780 Yen and Ryan’s tiny cup of espresso set us back 540 Yen. Thankfully, they were both well brewed. After dining at a number of Tokyo cafes, this beverage pricing, although shocking for an Australian is very much in line with most other premium cafes. I suppose these prices are part of the air of exclusivity and luxury that is inherent in dining in the hushed back room of the café.

Although I was ready to make the pilgrimage to Hidemi Sugino, I was also ready to be disappointed because I find that I simply don’t like mousse cake all that much. However, the delicate balance of flavours and soft set mousse at Hidemi Sugino has well and truly made me a convert. I only wish that there were more places which had such stringent standards for their own mousse cakes.

DSC09786

Facebook Page
Tabelog

Padre Coffee East Brunswick

Padre Coffee is a big name in the Melbourne coffee scene. After a little bit of research, I also learnt that Padre means father in many languages. It seemed appropriate to be visiting their East Brunswick store where it all began with my very own father (and mother). As soon as I entered the store the heady smell of coffee beans filled the air. It all makes sense as soon as you see the coffee roaster on premise.

padre latte

The large latte arrived in a bowl! This is my mum’s favourite cup of coffee, smooth and strong without a trace of acidity. On the other hand, a regular cappuccino comes in a normal cup. The froth on top is just as beautiful as that of the latte!

padre tea

I had a Yunnan green tea instead of coffee because I was still feeling a bit unwell. I appreciated how they took the time and care to brew a proper pot of green tea, instead of just filling a pot with boiling water like some cafes are wont to do. It was a touch too cold, on the lower end of 70 degrees perhaps due to not sufficiently warming the pot or cup.

For such a large venue there’s not much in the way of food, but that’s just fine because the real focus is on the coffee. That’s not to say that the small selection of pastries isn’t delicious. We shared a flaky ham scroll that went perfectly with the coffees.

Adjoined to the cafe, there’s also a veritable cornucopia of coffee making supplies. If you’re in the market for anything coffee related or even just a cup (or bowl!) of coffee this is the place to go.

padre coffee

https://shop.padrecoffee.com.au/
Padre Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ciao Italy: Rome

When you go to a new country, is it considered a faux pas if you don’t visit the capital? I don’t live in one and frankly neither do most of my friends so sometimes I’m inclined to think that they are overrated. Yet I couldn’t resist the allure of Rome. Rome, the eternal city. Never mind the fact that Rome was a convenient place to fly out of and back into Australia!

I’m very grateful to one of my friends who joined me for half of my Rome adventures and provided excellent company. Especially when waiting in lines and helping choose places to eat! She was also an excellent sport who indulged me in my wish to visit the Capuchin crypts. These crypts are really just a series of small chapels, decorated lovingly? with the bones of deceased Capuchin monks. If you’re curious I highly suggest looking the crypts up. It is because of these crypts that Victor Emmanuel II the first King of Italy was sufficiently disturbed to make decorating with human remains illegal.

DSC07794 (Copy)

In the re-occuring theme of my Italian travel the Spanish steps were sealed off and under repair. When standing at the Trinità dei Monti church, we had no idea that we were in fact atop the iconic steps until we made our descent!

We had much more luck at the Trevi Fountain. It had been recently refurbished and every inch was stunning. No wonder it is often called the most beautiful fountain in the world. We weren’t the only ones happy that the iconic fountain was unobstructed again, as the surrounding area was packed like spectators at a sports match.

Less ornate but equally impressive is the Pantheon. As we walked in evening mass was starting. We chose to sit down and take part for a while as a kindly priest from Germany or was it France, helped us figure out what was going on.

I’m not sure how accurate this is, but to me, piazza novana is the heart of Rome. We often found ourselves returning here to orientate ourselves. It’s worth taking some time just to walk past all the museums and just admire the fountains.

Ponte Sant’Angelo is touted as one of the most beautiful bridges in Rome. Numerous statues grace the walk way leading across the Tiber river to Castel Sant’Angelo. I never went into the castle myself but from a distance it is still very striking. I’m told that from the top of the castle, there are very good views of the Vatican city and St Peter’s square. 

Getting into the Colosseum was a bit of a fluke. Our arrival in Rome also happened to fall on the first Sunday of the month so entry into the Colosseum was free! The line to get in was almost was impressive as the Colosseum itself, but it moved surprisingly quickly. Once the site of many bloody battles and hours upon hours of entertainment for the Ancient Romans, it was interesting just how still the building itself felt.

The Roman Forums is perhaps the most impressive part of Rome. Although not as famous as the Colosseum the forums dominate the landscape. It’s difficult to accurately convey just how massive these Ancient structures are. Walking through the Palentine hills is not only a rather pleasant walk, but also a walk through the annuls of Roman history. It’s awe inspiring to think of people 2000 years ago building structures to such scale and extravagance without the aid of modern machinery.

DSC08792

Altare della Patria is a much newer addition to the Roman scene. Built to honour the first king of a unified Italy this structure can be climbed to get an amazing look at all of Rome. The white colour and size of the building also help it stand out from everything else in the piazza! 

Not entirely related to Rome, but while I was there I managed to catch the Alphonse Mucha exhibition in the Complesso del Vittoriano wing of Altare della Patria. As a big fan of Mucha I really enjoyed being able to see his art noveau work on so many products and on such large prints.

DSC07739 (Copy)

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the very first church that we visited in Rome. Not too far from the station, but away from the other major tourist attractions this church was surprisingly grandoise. 

After this we visited church after church. I must confess that I haven’t the faintest idea where half of these photos are from, but without fail, at every church there was always something charming or novel that made walking in worth the while.

When I was keen for somewhere a little bit more shady and quite to visit, the gardens of Villa Borghese were perfect. The gardens are rather expansive, including both a zoo, cinema and gallery. I wasn’t organised enough to get inside the gallery as tickets must be booked in advance, but inside is a collection of arts and sculptures that hits you at every twist and turn.

DSC08038 (Copy)

There are many ways to cross the Tiber River, but one of the most charming is probably via the man made island in the middle of it. This island is tiny! The only things on it appeared to be a church and a cafe. As we were crossing we chanced upon a wedding ceremony that was taking place in the church.

Trastevre is the hip other side of the Tiber river. This part of town is known more for the hipster bars and relaxed vibes. It’s also where we found this eclectic second hand English book store and stopped for some early evening drinks.

It’s not a post about Italy without some food photos to round things off. Where better to start than with my area of expertise: gelato. Although there was plenty of exorbitantly priced places, I’m glad to say that some of the best gelato places I tried were also found in Rome.

Frigidarium offers to dip your ice cream in white or dark chocolate free of charge. It doesn’t really get better than a premium gelato choc top! The chunky cookie flavour was also a big hit.

13413135_1067206966687655_2774390163078821309_n

In a similar vein, La Romana offers free whipped cream on top of your gelato! The gelato is inexpensive but very luxe feeling, with dedicated seating and a whole array of delicious looking cakes as well.

Come Il Latte is the very definition of artisanal gelato. They offer a range of interesting flavours like chai latte and also fresh waffle cones!

DSC07732 (Copy)

Sapori e Delizie hit the spot when it came to my first taste of Roman style pizza. Unlike further south the pizza was almost uniformly crispy and had a whole assortment of topping options. Surprisingly the salad also went down a treat.

DSC07783 (Copy)

Out of all the places that I had visited Rome was the only one where I could name all the main attractions without further research. In a way, because of this I thought that I would know what to expect. What I found changed and exceeded these perceptions in so many ways. I was surprised at just how chilled Rome was. Outside of the big tourist hot spots, roads opened up wide and plentiful. It would be a real injustice to just rush from place to place without being able to get a feel for a more relaxed Rome.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and you certainly should take more than a day to truly get to explore this city properly.

DSC07872 (Copy)

Tips
Rome is well serviced by both buses and the metro. I mainly took buses as it was more convenient in regards to where we were staying. Taking the metro often seems to come with the warning that there may be heavy delays and plenty of pick pockets.

Rome train station is one of the few stations where almost everything is open until late. If you’re not in a rush to get home, but don’t know what else to do, wandering around the shops and cafes there can be a way to kill some time.

DSC07869 (Copy)

After 15 posts and almost a year, I’ve finished chronicling my time in Italy! I hope that I’ve managed to give you a glimpse into my travels and Italy as a whole. Before too long I’ll be getting back to you with my journeys in Japan.

 

Announcement

As this post goes live, I’ll be in Japan on another holiday!

The first portion of my trip is going to be a lot of traveling but the second half will see me settled in Tokyo for two weeks of mostly shopping and eating. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to blog while overseas, but experience has shown that never works out too well for me. If you’re keen on seeing what I’m up to follow me on instagram (FerrisWheelFancy and FerrisWheelFlight) for more live updates.

DSC09700 DSC09672

In the mean time, I’ve queued up some posts and am looking forward to letting you know about my adventures!

By Josephine

I’ve never been to Paris before. However, if it is anything like By Josephine I can see why so many others are enamoured with it. It somehow manages to be effortlessly classy and whimsical all at once. The interior would look perfectly at home in a shabby chic Pinterest inspiration board. The pastry display is offset with a beautiful glow of light. I daresay it would be impossible to walk in and leave empty handed. In fact, I also bought a canele and pistachio and raspberry croissant for later!

By Josephine high tea

On this occasion, I was partaking in a leisurely high tea with friends. The high tea offers a wide selection of drinks, from tea (hot or cold), coffees and even juice. It’s hard to go past a traditional pot of hot tea when sweets are involved. The Detox Tea was pleasantly somewhere between green and herbal tea.

By Josephine tea

A selection of macarons accompanied the tea. The flavours were pistachio, chocolate and salted caramal. In terms of flavour the pistachio was my favourite, but it certainly doesn’t beat the black sesame that By Josephine also puts out. Impressively, all the macarons at By Josephine are made by hand rather than machine!

DSC09752

DSC09753

As always savouries were on the bottom tier of the stand. The chicken & tarragon pain au lait looked incredibly inviting, with a glistening sheen to the pain au lait bun. I liked the bursts of tarragon but found myself wishing that the bread was a little bit warmer and softer. Palmiers remind me of my childhood. I loved going to the bakery with my parents and picking out the largest and flakiest palmier covered with sugar crystals to snack on. Biting into the tapenade & sundried tomato palmier was just like revisiting that joy but as an adult. The cheese gougère is definitely one for cheese lovers. The rich goat’s cheese sat neatly in the light choux pastry. I don’t entirely remember what the square pastry was, but I will say that it reminded me of a pizza in the best way.It wouldn’t be a French high tea without a buttery quiche to help round off the savoury plate.

By Josephine brule

The top most tier contained a small pot of lavender infused crème brûlée and cubes of grapefruit marshmallow. I am a bit of a sucker for home made marshmallows and lavender so it was a nor brainer that I would love both of these. Thankfully the crème brûlée was flavoured with a light hand so it didn’t taste soapy.

By Josephine sweets

That just leaves the middle tier of even more sweet treats! Pistachio bread and butter pudding with raspberry coulis and custard on top was a wonderful twist on an old classic. I imagine this would be even better served warm straight from the baking tray. Spiced biscuits were a surprise hit! Crispy and full of warm cinnamon flavour, I could have easily eaten a handful. The raspberry and chocolate tartelette was probably the richest part of the whole tea. I struggled to finish everything else after eating this. So much so that I ended up taking the rose & raspberry tea cake home to give to my mum.

The 3 tiered stand was so full that our madeleines didn’t fit on! Sadly this means that I forgot to take a photo of them. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that they were small, cute and perfect dipped in tea.

DSC09754

By Josephine also offers a vegetarian and gluten free high tea menu. The gluten free set that my friends shared looked likewise plentiful and delicious.

At $42 this high tea a real bargain for the incredible selection of food! In eschewing the usual scones and sandwiches By Josephine makes every item in the high tea seem exciting and different. My only real gripe is that it only includes one drink. In typical French style, there is plenty of butter and some of the foods are very rich so it’s a bit difficult to finish them without a drink to offset the heaviness. I found myself ordering another pot of peppermint tea halfway through tea service.

By Josephine display

P.S. On the website it states that high tea is only for the duration of 1.5 hours, but this doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced if the store isn’t busy.

http://macaronsbyjosephine.com.au/
By Josephine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ciao Italy: The Vatican

Before I get to my last post on my travels in Italy, I thought that I would take a little detour to the Vatican. Although situated in Rome, the Holy See it is unto itself its own city state. It is the smallest state in the world, both in terms of population and size. In order to honour just how small the Vatican city is, this post is going to be likewise concise!

As a normal tourist you won’t have free reign in the Vatican City. Instead, you’re confined to some well-trod hot spots, mainly the Vatican museum and St Peter’s Basilica. There are some tours that will take you around the gardens and the catacombs as well but they can be rather expensive or difficult to organise so I just stuck to this iconic duo.

DSC08262 (Copy)

St Peter’s Basilica actually opens at 7 am. If you’re keen to avoid the queuing the earlier you get there the better. I only managed to make my way there at 8:30 am expecting a crowd, but I found getting through security to St Peter’s square an absolute breeze. It felt oddly appropriate to be looking up at the balcony where the Pope is usually sighted with rays of Italian sun hitting me straight in the face.

Entry into the Basilica is free. Leisurely walking in and out of the dimmed church was a bit of a joy in and of itself. It seems that at any time, various parts of the Basilica are sealed off from tourist foot traffic. In spite of this, the sheer size of the church and spacious open area doesn’t make it seem like you are missing out on much. Even after seeing all the other churches all over the country St Peter’s Basilica was still mesmerising. Every surface that could be adorned was full of beauty and detail.

Gorgeous artworks and architecture aside, St Peter’s Basilica is clearly an important site of religious pilgrimage. Although I’m not so inclined, watching other people make this important journey was worth reflection.

DSC09052 (Copy)

To get this iconic shot of the Vatican and Rome a climb to duomo is a must. (Fun fact! Apparently, Michalengelo was inspired by the duomo of Florence when creating this structure!) I figured that taking the steps would give me a greater sense of accomplishment so off I went. This was actually one of the easier climbs that I had encountered on my trip. Although I had already seen many photos of this view I was still wowed. What people usually don’t tell you about when you get up to duomo is that there’s also a great view of the beautifully manicured lawns and houses in the Vatican city that normal visitors don’t have access too. From here I could also see the crowds at the Vatican museum!

The museum itself is something else altogether. Walking along I was gradually stupefied by the crowds and amazing artwork after artwork. Furthermore, it was difficult to stop and admire some of the rooms due to the throngs of people pushing us through the narrow rooms with only a cursory glance at everything. This was a real shame because I wanted to linger everywhere a little. Especially in the maps room and closely admire all the wonderful hand-drawn maps of Italy and pinpoint all the places I had been on my travels.

Without a doubt, the Sistine Chapel is the most visited area of the museum. There is a no photos policy, but that didn’t seem to stop tourists from taking many sneaky photos. Suffice to say, even with the people all around, the Chapel is an incredible example of High Renaissance artwork. I craned my neck and spun around so many times, but even that wasn’t enough to take it all in.

When things got too much to handle, I spent some time sitting in the more modern wing of the museum enjoying the aircon and lack of people. The garden within the museum didn’t have many chairs, but it was also pleasant to wander in and get a breath of fresh air, before doubling back to have a proper look at some of the things which we had walked past a little too quickly.

What really stunned me was just how different the frescos and statues were. All of them beautiful in their own right, but clearly from different painters and art periods. Personally, I was very taken with Raphael’s frescos and Melozzo da Forli’s radiant angels.

Current day Rome owes much of its wealth and status to the power of the Roman Catholic church. Nowhere is the grandeur and power of what was once the Holy Roman Empire more evident. Sometimes it does get to be a bit too much, with the gift shops everywhere and tourists in every other corner but there’s also beauty everywhere. From the ceiling right down into the ground.


DSC09040 (Copy)

DSC08264 (Copy)

Tips
Pre-booking a ticket to the Vatican museum is fairly straight forward and an absolute must (https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking). The line to get in can be hours long, especially on Mondays as the museum is closed on Sundays. With a pre-booked ticket you can by-pass the long line you see outside the Vatican walls and instead make a bee-line for the advanced sales line. From this much shorter line, you then go through security before exchanging the online voucher for a proper ticket.

There are two options when it comes to climbing the duomo of St Peter’s Basilica. A trip on the lift will save you some 300 steps straight up to the cafe and gift store. Walking up will save you a few euro and test your fitness. That said, the steps are well maintained and fairly wide up to a certain point, so if you’re of good health walking all the way up should be fairly doable. Getting here early also saved me from a long wait and left me with a lot of time to get good photos and take in the views without people in my way.

As always with churches, it is important to make sure that you are properly attired. That is, knees and shoulders covered. In my case, a pair of opaque stockings under a relatively short skirt never received any warnings.

Although I did not have the stamina for it, it’s possible to see both the chapel and museum in one day so long as you start as early as possible on one of them!

DSC09015 (Copy)

Tina’s Noodle Kitchen

Although it’s still Autumn in Melbourne it feels like we’ve suddenly been plunged into Winter. It’s such a shock to the system to go from an unbearably warm March to the biting cold in April. I must confess it has got me a little down in the dumps and also a little bit sick.

When it’s sick and cold there’s nothing better than a warming bowl of soup. Even better if there are noodles in the soup as well. It seemed like a few other people had the exact same idea as me, as there was a small line outside Tina’s Noodle Kitchen when I arrived. Not one to wait out in the cold I went window shopping in Myer for a while before coming back and being seated instantly.

Ordering and payment are done the same time at the counter. If you look Asian the staff will probably also speak Chinese to you.

Tinas noodles fish and mustard

Fish Slices with Pickles was exactly what I needed. Tender slippery pieces of fish and mustard greens were a great bite. Hidden in the soup were crunchy pieces of black fungus and soft beancurd. The rice noodles are very soft and consequently easy to slurp up.

Tinas noodle kitchen

Spicy Beef Noodles with added mushrooms are really very spicy. The layer of oil helps seal in the heat and makes for a flaming hot mouthful, heat and spice wise.

After a few mouthfuls of soup noodle, you will notice that both of the broths are very salty. They serve more as noodle flavouring than as a soup that you should drink up. I think this reflects the fact that heavy seasoning a la salt, pepper, pickles and probably a bit of MSG are used as opposed to the laborious process of stewing bones and vegetables for a particularly complex broth. Despite this, Tina’s Noodle Kitchen fills a gap in the city for Chinese style soup noodles. If you’re craving something warming on a cold night, it will probably hit the spot.

Tina's Noodle Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ciao Italy: Florence Sites and Sights

Florence: Sights

As I was going through my photos of all the things I did in Florence, I realised that I had done much more than I thought in the month that I spent there! In spite of this, there is still so much of Florence left to explore, and I’m sure that I’ve left some real gems off of this list. All I hope is that this list gives an idea of the sheer number of things to do and see in almost every corner of this beautiful city.

DSC06147

Santa Maria Del Fiore (Florence Duomo)

I put this in its own category because it is THE landmark of Florence. It’s almost impossible to go through the city without catching sight of the Duomo. I had the pleasure of passing by it every day on my way to the train station.

Going through the doors of this impressive church is actually free! From the ground, you can see people making their way to the cupola and the very impressive fresco on the dome. However, the actual space is much more sparse than you would expect of a church this grand on the outside.

The ticket to the Duomo gives you access to the cupola, baptistery, bell tour and museum. Climbing the cupola is the quintessential Florence must do. Rows and rows of stairs come up above you almost endlessly, and just when you think you can’t go on anymore, you walk through a door and are face to face with the gigantic rooftop fresco. It was impossible to capture the sheer scale of this work with my camera. You can’t stop for too long though because another set of stairs will lead you to the dome itself and a view of the outside.

Although climbing the duomo may be more iconic, arguably the view from the bell tower is better. This is because you can actually see the duomo from the tower. There’s also a grill over which you can stand and look at the plummet many many floors down. I wasn’t brave enough to put my feet over, but I manage to shakily take a photo!

The baptistery is mostly famous for their golden doors; more specifically the Eastern door which leads to the duomo and was dubbed the gates of paradise by Dante. Personally, I found the mosaic rooftop inside just as captivating as the outside.

The museum is the largest and probably the most underrated part of the ticket. I don’t blame people for giving it a miss, due to its sheer size. If nothing else, make sure you have a good look at the original doors of the Baptistery which are kept and restored here.

Tips
Starting from late 2016 you can now pre-book your climb of the duomo (https://www.museumflorence.com/) I highly recommend this because it took us almost 2 hours of waiting to be able to do the climb! Booking for the other attractions is probably not necessary as getting to the bell tower and baptistery were only a short wait for us.

Markets and shops

Mercato Centrale
Located in the historic centre of Florence, right smack bang in the leather markets, Mercato Centrale is the perfect destination for foodies. The ground floor is filled with various vendors selling the most beautiful vegetables, pasta, and all round Tuscan goods. Whereas the upper level is a little bit more upmarket, with food options that extend beyond just the usual Italian fare. Although there are cheaper meals to be found elsewhere, nowhere offers as much variety in such a beautiful location. It also helps that is open beyond the usual lunch and dinner trading hours.

Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
If you love food this is another market that is worth visiting. Less of a tourist hub and more of a local’s produce market this is a great place to get a feel for what a Florentine would actually eat. If you have a kitchen and are in Florence for a while I highly recommend picking up some Fresh pasta here.

DSC07197

San Lorenzo leather market
People will tell you that the San Lorenzo leather market is a massive tourist trap and full of pushy sellers all trying to force upon you the same goods as the store next door. Although I’m inclined to agree, I also think that a visit is part of the quintessential Florence experience. How long you stay, and if you buy anything is really up to you and your haggling skills.

Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
Of all the stores in Florence, this is probably one of the most beautiful and historical. Behind its unassuming facade is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It now houses a tea room and sells various perfumes and other scented things. However, along the walls and in the displays are really wonderful artworks and tidbits of historical information that make a window shopping a real pleasure.

School of leather
This is a more recent Florentine historical institution. At certain times you will be able to see leather craftsmen hard at work in the school. At others, you will only be able to see their goods lining the walls. Most of the leather goods here aren’t cheap, but you’re getting a real assurance of hand made quality. Entry is free, so it’s a good way to spend some time admiring the local craft.

Gioia Chiara
If you’re on a bit of a budget, looking for leather but put off by the dubious wares hawked at a lot of other stores around town, Gioia Chiara really is the place to go. This small store is a family owned business that takes great pride in its products. There’s plenty of reasonably priced wallets, key chains, and bags that would make a great gift or wardrobe addition. I actually bought a beautiful soft brown leather wallet here for my boyfriend.

Bookbinding and Papermaking stores
There is a real variety of these all around the city. The notebooks and bookmarks also make great souvenirs without breaking the bank. You will find Il papiro everywhere (even in Melbourne!), but there are also plenty of other stores to choose from.

Museums

Uffizi gallery
There’s so much to see at the Uffizi it is mind boggling. Sure, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Spring are the biggest draw cards but the hall way of Caravaggio’s and Annunciation by Da Vinci was also incredible. There’s plenty of beautiful lesser known artworks as well. Not to mention, the building itself which is set across 3 different floors is stunning. This gallery is so large that my friends and I had to sit down and take a break little over half way through!

Accademia
Michelangelo’s David serves as a symbol of Florence and you can see the real deal in Accademia. This gallery is of a much smaller size than the Uffizi and for the most part very manageable despite a crowd due to the open space in which the statues are kept. Sitting down and contemplating David, is strangely surreal after seeing him so many times in the news, on books and in popular culture.

Make sure you pay careful attention to the street signs around Florence! There is also a fair bit of quirky modern art that sits carefully with the old. Other modern art exhibitions can usually be found all over town. Palazzo Strozzi will usually host more modern art exhibitions and is also open late in the Summer months.

Tips
Keep an eye out for special days and events that make these places a bit cheaper. We managed to visit Academia on the night of the Museum, a European initiative which made entry a mere euro from 7pm to 10pm. On the first Sunday of each month, state museums are all free. Although I am told that the line to get in is incredibly long.

Unless you happen to be visiting the museums on these fee reduced days, it’s best to book for entry before hand. Queues to get in are notoriously long at all times of the year and easily skipped by booking online for a set time (http://www.firenzemusei.it/) for a small fee of 4 euro per ticket or even better, calling up and getting a reservation for no extra cost.

Churches

DSC06162

Santa Croce
This church is famous for being the burial spot of Michelangelo and Galileo. It is also a beautiful display of gothic architecture and a place for people watching. At night time, people will spill out onto the piazza from the bars. At others, there will be blockades put up for events.

Santa Maria Novella
Even if you never set foot in Santa Maria Novella, chances are you will hear of it, thanks to the main train station taking its name from this church. Although not the biggest tourist drawcard, Italians are often taught of this church as one of the most important gothic churches in Tuscany. So much so that one of my Italian friends commented that it was strange to see it in real life, as she had studied it so much as a 2d image.

Santo Spirito
Like most of the other famous churches, Santo Spirito faces out into a piazza. The point of difference here is that it is a market piazza that often features students sketching and an array of beautiful foodstuffs to buy. Lining the walls of the garden next door are the tombstones of many fallen soldiers.

DSC06834

San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo church stands out, not only because it is smack bang in the middle of a busy marketplace but also due to its fabulously incomplete looking facade. This was purportedly meant to be eventually finished with a design by Michelangelo but evidently, that never happened!

There are so many more sacred sites and churches than these few dotted all over Florence. Listing them all would be an absolute nightmare. If you’re ever in need of a short respite or just curious, popping into a church probably won’t ever hurt.

Views and Gardens

Piazza Michelangelo
When I introduce people to Piazza Michelangelo I tell them that it’s really just a glorified car park. I stand by these words. In the middle of the piazza is a giant and somewhat dirty statue of Michelangelo from which it gets its name. The real reason why so many people take the treck up here is for the amazing views of the city of Florence and the Tuscan countryside. Going down the flower gardens are also a bit of a treat.

Ponte Vecchio
This picturesque bridge is beautiful from afar and also up close. At sunset and sunrise, this bridge is absolutely breath taking. When you’re actually on it, it’s a bit squishier, but it’s worth admiring the many fine gold stores built into the bridge. Even when all the stores have been shuttered, the view remains charming and fairytale-esque.

Piazza Della Signoria
A long-standing symbol of political intrigue, these days Piazza Della Signoria is more well known for the many impressive statues lining the square. Whilst I was on exchange, a most intriguing and irreverent art exhibition was taking place, featuring this man on a giant golden turtle!

Piazza Della Repubblica
This is my favourite Piazza in all of Florence. Mostly due to the whimsical carousel smack bang in the middle of the city. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty picture in the day and at night when it’s all lit up.

DSC06905

Boboli gardens and Pitti palace
The closest I ever got to these gardens was actually sitting on the steep stone incline outside and sunbaking. However, by all accounts, the gardens and palace are incredibly beautiful and worth a full day’s worth of exploration if you’re up for it.

Oltrarno
Technically not a sight, the Oltrarno is Florence on the other side of the river Arno. Some of the places I’ve mentioned on this list are in Oltrarno so, you’re bound to wander into it. However, this part of Florence is worth a bit of exploration in its own right. The windy streets house many beautiful cafes, bars and stores and much fewer tourists. My favourite tea house can be found here. Same for my favourite gelato place.

DSC07223

Tips
A lot of official Florence tourist places will want to push the Firenze card upon you. The card offers entry to the Duomo and skip the line entry to some museums but it comes at an eye water 72 euro and only lasts for 3 days. I think that it would be almost impossible to get good value for money with the card unlesss you really want to speed through all the museums and exhibits.

As with all Italian cities, there’s a fair share of beggars and pushy sales people. I find it’s best to be careful but firm when people start getting up in your face. As a side note, tt also helps to already have an umbrella when it’s raining otherwise everyone within a 50 metre radius will be trying to shove one in your face.

Florence is a very walkable city. As a result, there isn’t much public transport apart from the small and rather hectic looking buses. I never managed to catch a bus due to how crowded they were and walking proved to be a good excuse to get just another gelato. From one end of the city to the other, it only takes around 30-40 minutes. If you choose to go this route, remember good walking shoes and luggage with good wheels are your friends as the cobblestones are not kind to your feet or luggage.

If you would like to read more about Florence I recommend the following blogs:
http://girlinflorence.com/ A detailed and almost invaluable resource that goes above and beyond the general lists (like this one!) that dot the internet.
https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/florence This is more of a general guide for Florence and other parts of Italy. Handy if you want an overview of what to do, see and eat without or before getting into swathes of information.

To finish this lengthy post off, here’s some extra photos, including the stunning view from the apartment in which I stayed for a month.

DSC06154

Operator 25

How do you keep in touch with people who you no longer see regularly? A sad part of adult life seems to be losing touch with friends. Sure, you can see what they’re up to on facebook, instagram or other social media but there’s nothing quite like catching up in person.

In a similar vein, how often should you touch base with a good cafe or restaurant? I’ve admitted time and time again that when it comes to food I’m not one for commitment. I can’t bring myself to visit the same places again when there are so many new ones to try. Even so, sometimes I feel that from time to time I should check up on places that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps it serves me right when after a year, they’ve totally changed the menu and replaced all the old favourites.

I didn’t have any of this in mind when I re-visited Operator 25 after a long absence. However, upon reflection, it seems appropriate that I would finally go back here with a good friend who I had also not seen for too long.

DSC09662

Not only was it unseasonably warm, but I had also power walked over to the train station in order to get to brunch on time. As a result, I chose to eschew my usual warm tea with an iced elderberry tea with chia seeds and orange slice. The tea had a pleasant citrus taste and wasn’t too sweet. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of the chia seeds was, but they added an interesting if somewhat unnecessary textural element to the drink.

Orange Juice was ordered by both my dining companions. It was freshly squeezed, so if you let it sit for too long it would seperate a bit, but a quick stir and the taste isn’t really affected at all.

DSC09664

I dithered between the chia pudding and the Japanese open omelette, before eventually settling on the omelette. What arrived was more of a thin pancake of egg with a generous dash of many of my favourite Japanese ingredients. I found that the octopus was a bit too tough and toothsome and the sauce a touch overpowering, but that aside the flavours were on point.

DSC09668

As for the teriyaki benedict, the mizuna leaves weren’t a sell but the soft brioche and yuzu hollandaise definitely won hearts.

DSC09666

My friend polished off the Balinese pork burger first. After the last bite, he paused and commented that it was ‘good, real good actually’. In my books that’s high praise. Although Operator 25 no longer serves this burger with a side of sweet potato fries, I’m not sure if you need them considering how indulgent this already looks.

Even though I hadn’t been to Operator 25 in years it’s funny how I trusted that it wouldn’t let me down. This visit was everything that I had hoped it would be; somehow striking a balance between the new and familiar. I’m inclined to hope that my friendships will be the same, even if time and distance keeps us apart.

http://www.operator25.com.au/
Operator25 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ciao Italy: Capri

I’m actually typing this up on a high-speed train from Naples to Capri. I know I said I was going through my time in Italy in a chronological order but I thought that I would at least try and type this up while it was still fresh in my memory.

Although the trains are not the smoothest in the world, (I feel like that honour belongs to the Japanese shinkansen), the scenery is stunning. To visit the Italian cities I’ve taken trains all the way from the north in Turin down to Naples in the south, and in the process, I’ve passed by beautiful mountain ranges, charming little towns, idyllic pastoral scenes and ruined castles. This is such a change from long haul train rides in Australia where you’re more inclined to see reddish dirt.

Now onto the actual content of this post!

Capri is often touted as Italy’s answer to Santorini, with beautiful blue seas, magnificent views and very steep climbs. One of my friends highly recommended Capri to me before I went to Italy, so I just had to check it out!

By fast boat, the trip to Capri is only 40-50 minutes. I’ve heard that the boat can rock a lot and leave you feeling pretty seasick. Not one to take chances, I took some travel sickness medication and slept the whole way over!

DSC07567

I was disappointed to learn that I couldn’t buy tickets to go visit the blue grotto because the seas were too choppy and the water level too high. In light of that, I decided to give the whole boat ride along the island thing a miss because I was still a bit dizzy from the ride over.

DSC07574

Not to be deterred, I decided to make the most out of my day and head to Capri Centro. I was entirely caught off guard by just how much of a climb it was to the city centre. I sweated and cursed my choice of shoes as I made my way up. On the other hand, it was nice to have the walk up mostly to myself and to get a feel for the windy streets of the island.

DSC07576

On the other hand, the main piazza and the city streets were buzzing with the smart people who had decided to take a train or cable car up! The town of Capri is actually full of stores, hotels and restaurants down alleyways and all across the main road. All the luxury brands were really well represented and I can imagine this being the perfect place to splash out for a romantic honeymoon. As a poor uni student, I had other priorities!

I quickly popped into the church in the city centre before heading off to see the more natural side of Capri.

DSC07587

As my luck would have it, the natural arch of Capri was under construction! This was a complete surprise, because although I have encountered my fair share of buildings and monuments being under construction, this was a real first. Part of me was rather disappointed whereas another part of me found this all too humorous. I could overhear a lot of other tourists around me lamenting that seeing all the scaffolding was a real shame. In the end, I guess it would be more of a shame for erosion to eventually cause the whole thing to collapse, so good on the government for attempting to maintain it.

 

Not far from the main city centre is the Augustus gardens. It turns out that the garden was really more of a small well maintained park. The main draw card is the amazing views that you get of the bay and paths far below. There is a small entrance fee, but I felt that it helped keep the crowds at bay and made sure that there was room for everyone to sit and relax.

DSC07599

On the way to the gardens, make sure you pop into Carthusia. The international perfumery is based in Capri, with scents based off of the island itself and other parts of Italy. The store both smells and looks incredible. At the time I couldn’t justify buying anything but browsing was still a rather pleasant experience.

All the wandering around had made me rather thirsty so I picked up a freshly squeezed orange juice from a friendly store owner. Sitting, back against the sun, juice in hand, I realised that it’s easy to love Italy when you find yourself in such a picture perfect moment.

Less pleasant was the bus ride over to Anacapri. What I initially envisaged as a zippy 15 minute trip over to the Capri’s other town soon morphed into a frustrating 30 minute queue in sweltering heat to get onto the tiny jam packed buses.

When I eventually got to Anacapri it was with a real sense of relief. Coming off the bus, it seemed like the heat and people were peeling away to reveal a more spacious town. Gone were the large piazzas and bars, and instead I saw a few houses and steep heels. Although most people were taking an afternoon break, in typical Italian fashion I couldn’t resist a little wander through the historical centre.

Perhaps the most famous and eye-catching part of the historical centre is the tiled ceramic floor of St Michel. This pokey church doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the ceramic floor really is something to behold. It looks part biblical and part fantasy. It was difficult to capture it all on the ground level, and even from the second floor taking it all in was impressive.

 

Villa San Michele is without a doubt my favourite part of Capri. The entrance was so unassuming that I mistakenly thought it was a gift store. Swedish Physician Axel Munthe arguably made Capri and his Villa famous through his biography, which penned the creation of this Villa. In the present day it is part museum, part cafe and part gardens. I found that it worked on all those levels, as it was both educational and a beautiful place to sit and have a moment of tranquility.

DSC07681

The mysterious sphinx sits at the centre of many of the stories about the house. I couldn’t resist taking a photo from behind it.

After the nightmare bus ride, I figured that it would be much safer to walk back to the port rather than risk another sweaty line. Little did I know of the horrors that awaited me! Okay, that’s a little exaggerated. To be more accurate I had no idea how much of a trek the path down was. I walked down seemingly endless flights of stairs and roads before eventually finding myself back where I started. Distance aside, this was actually a fairly tame walk. At times the incline was fairly steep, but there were few people and lots of opportunities to take breaks.

Capri feels like a whole world away from the grittier Naples. It’s easy to see why people associate it with romantic getaways and a heady scent of citrus fruits. It’s almost impossible to resist the relaxed holiday mood that permeates almost all of the island. I simply can’t argue against the charming fairy tale romance that Capri has, nor would I want to.

DSC07622

Tips

Never trust the time estimate the google maps gives you to when walking to places in Capri. It seriously does not take into account the steep climb up and down!  My legs were shaking uncontrollably at the end of the day.

Getting to and from Capri from Naples is fairly straight forward. You can buy a ticket for the ferry or boat at the port on the day which is what I did. You can also book your tickets online beforehand. If you know what time you would like to arrive and depart I highly suggest buying your tickets earlier in the day or online. This is because when I went to buy my tickets, the next ferry was usually sold out so I would have to buy tickets for a boat that was 20 or so minutes after the time I originally wanted. This usually meant that I was just waiting around the port for 40 or so minutes, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as there’s always snacks to buy and stores to browse but it’s probably not the best use of time if you don’t have a lot of it.

DSC07712