Japan Travel Diary 2017

This trip to Japan crept up on me almost out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags and getting ready to take a 6am flight over to a country which I have visited many times. For me, Japan is both nostalgic and new. A lot of travel and a half year long exchange means that parts of the country are familiar, but every time I visit, I go to new and exciting places. Sometimes, even the familiar has already changed.

For this trip, I spent almost half of the time travelling from place to place, before finally settling into Tokyo for the last two weeks. I’ll be writing up my travels as more of a daily journal, but when it comes to Tokyo I’ll write posts about the more notable places I’ve been to and things I’ve done.

Let’s get into things!

Tokyo Day 0

After a brief stopover at Cairns airport we found ourselves in the new wing of Narita Airport. Terminal 3.

We stayed at Hotel Horidome Villa. This hotel was truly tiny, but the surrounding district was actually charming. Alley after alley of bars filled the streets. The roads were wide and there was almost no one around. In a way, it was refreshing to see this new side of Tokyo.

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I wasn’t up for much adventure on our first night, so dinner ended up being the very familiar Cocoichiba curry. Interestingly, for May their special was soup curry, which is one of my favourite dishes. The soup curry lacked the depth of flavour that a good Hokkaido soup curry will have, but it helped me get my vegetable, protein and carb hit all at once. This was also Ryan’s first time try Cocoichiba!

Although I slept for almost the entire plane ride over to Japan, I still managed to fall asleep like a rock as soon as the lights were turned off.

Tokyo – Kanazawa Day 1

Being the dedicated foodie that I am, I had some big plans for our very first morning in Tokyo.

Echire is a premium brand of French butter that also seems to have a big following in Japan. Half an hour before opening a sizeable line was already outside the tiny little store. Only 10 or so people were allowed in at a time. Every time the door opened the smell of baking and butter filled the air, making my mouth water. Thankfully the line moved rather quickly and within 20 minutes of opening I had a bag full of pastries in my hot little hands.

We bought the whole selection of pastries to share. The traditional croissant, croissant made with salted butter, croissant made with unsalted butter, apple pastry, pain au chocolate, raisin snail, madeline and financier. The 50% echire butter croissants were probably the best of the bunch. Incredibly flaky and very very buttery. It almost seemed like a waste to bake such good buttery into the croissants. However, the apple pastry was also nothing to scoff at either. For a rather pricey 780 Yen this was almost as good to eat as it was beautiful to look at.

My biggest qualm with these baked goods is that they would be significantly improved if served warm. It seemed a shame to see so many hot croissants coming out of the oven but not being able to eat them that way. This seems more like something that you buy to take home and heat up for a leisurely afternoon tea, or to enjoy with friends in the afternoon as opposed to eating it right there.

Straight after sampling these goodies I made sure that we headed straight to Hidemi Sugino to get first dibs on their mousse cakes. I loved these cakes so much they deserved their own blog post. 

Having eaten our fill of sweets it was time to get organised and leave for Kanazawa. Getting to Kanazawa from Tokyo is pretty straightforward with the new Shinkansen line straight to Kanazawa station.

Part of the charm of riding a Shinkansen is the ekiben. Tokyo station may be confusing to navigate but it also boasts a wide range of food options to choose from on your journey. It was impossible to go past the Ekibenya matsuri, located within the station gates on the 1st floor.  It sells specialities from all around Japan and Tokyo.

Ryan was easily convinced by the Shinkansen bento boxes irrespective of the food inside. I chose to go with the Tokyo station exclusive Tokyo bento. Interestingly enough my favourite component turned out to be the vegetables and various pickles. As always the bentos are a real work of art.

When we arrived at 5:30 the sun was starting to set. Kanazawa station is meant to be one of the most beautiful stations in Japan. To be able to see it in real life was really something!

We spent most of the night exploring tatemachi and katamachi. It seems with more new and revamped shopping malls in the area less people were wandering around the streets. Right next to the animate store in katamachi, I managed to find both an Angelic Pretty and Baby the stars shine bright store.

By chance we stumbled upon ABRI. Ramen shop by day and bar with ramen at night! I was attracted by the adorable cat logo, and in all honestly wasn’t expecting all that much from the food at such a random location. What we ended up having far exceeded my expectations.

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Shoyu chasu ramen was a simple dish, but done exceedingly well. The broth rich with umami flavour from a mix of seafood and meat, the noodles were thin, al dente and when combined with the chasu, served as the perfect re-introduction to Japanese ramen.

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The lobster soup ramen with cheese is without a doubt the most unique ramen that I have ever tried. This somehow tasted exactly like a baked lobster tail with cheese but in ramen form! Everything about this was like a strange French, Italian, Japanese fusion but somehow it all worked together. The lobster soup was also intensely flavoured, and I loved dishing it up with the accompanying rice and savouring every bite.

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As a bar ABRI also had a decent selection of craft beers, including beers from Kanazawa brewery on tap!

After dinner, the wind really started to pick up so we made the executive decision to go back to the hotel and get an early night’s sleep for an early start tomorrow.

I know it seems like I travel a lot from my blog posts, but the reality is, I spend far too long writing up travel posts! I’m hoping to rectify this situation by writing up more posts while in the country, like this one.

(PS. I’m currently back in Australia and let me tell you, that did not work out all too well!! Watch me write up many a blog post to make up for this backlog)

Tips
Pocket Wifi or sim card? Last time I went to Japan we decided on pocket wifi, but this time I picked up a sim card from the airport. As I’m staying for more days, the sim card seems more economical and allows more flexibility re: data use and duration. Although I picked up a card from the only provider in terminal 3, there’s many more options and deals in terminal 1. The main downside is that, I’m the only person with internet. If we need to check google maps or anything else, my phone has to be charged. Furthermore, only I have internet so we have to stick together a lot!

There’s multiple ways to get from Narita airport to inner city Tokyo. Although it is more expensive than the other options I’m a big fan of the keisei skyliner. It is speedy, the seats are all allocated and there’s ample room for luggage. As an added bonus, it is also possible to purchase a ticket that combines this with 24 hours of continuous subway use. We found this super useful since our hotel was closest to a subway line.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.


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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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IMBUE Summer Edition

While it was still in the midst of Summer I attended a tea and food pairing event hosted by IMBUE. This post is going to be more of a photo essay, to better get across the flow of the event. For a more in depth write up check out my previous blog post on IMBUE brunch edition.

The weather was an erratic mix of sunshine, rain and hail so we were seated inside.

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Summer Fizz (Carbonated jasmine tea and blueberries)

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Mushroom Bruschetta with White puerh bud tea

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Nigiri Trio and Himalayan Snow Bud Tea

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Pork Belly sandwich with Formosa Oriental beauty tea. Both of my friends commented that this was the stand out dish of the day.

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Oolong Icecream. This was my favourite because it was everything that I loved: oolong, osmanthus, ice cream and waffle cones. I would happily eat this  every day if I had the option.

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Chocolate Brownie with Da Hong Pao tea. I loved this tea so much. It had an intensity and smooth mellow depth of flavour that I adored and haven’t really encountered before.

This was another fantastic event from IMBUE. Every from the pairings to the flow of conversation ebbed along the afternoon. Before we knew it hours had passed and we left full of good food, tea and memories.

 

Ciao Italy: Bologna

After much delay, I return to documenting my time in Italy. I’m hoping to be able to finish up the bulk of these posts before I go off to Sydney in the middle of February. However, the deeper I get into this, the more I realise that it is wishful thinking on my part. In the interests of actually getting these posts written up, my next few posts about Italy may be a touch shorter. It also helps that these were just short day trips that I took!

This was another semi-last minute trip. Most of our friends were busy on the weekend, but along with one of my friends I was determined to explore a little more and visit this bustling city.

Upon exiting Bologna Centrale station we decided to trust our gut and walk in the direction with the most people and tall churches. This proved to be an excellent decision. Before too long we soon found ourselves in front of Porta Galliera. We could immediately deduce that this was one gates of the old Medieval walls of the city. It felt strange to see such an ornate structure, smack bang in the walkway with nary an explanation for it.

Although we were aiming for the centre of Bologna, we veered off course and into the Park of Montagnol. Although the steps and fountains leading up to the park, the same could not be said for the park itself. I imagine that the statues were once rather imposing and grand, but now they were gated and rather unkempt.

From up in the park we couldn’t miss La Piazzola. This is a weekly market that houses almost everything imaginable. We weaved through the white tents, looking at people hunting for bargains amongst piles of clothes and shoes.

When we hit the main road, it was almost like we were in a different city. The road suddenly became wide, paved and covered. We followed the shops down to Piazza Maggiore, at the centre of many of the tourist attractions of Bologna.

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Neptune’s fountain is perhaps the focal point of the piazza. This imposing fountain has seen better days, but that didn’t stop it from being interesting. Upon closer inspection, it appears as if the mermaid like creatures are lactating, which is an odd touch to any monument really.

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Basilica di San Petronio stands towering over Piazza Maggiore. The church is striking not only due to its large size, but also due to its unfinished façade. The interior of the church was on the plainer side. Impressive vaulted ceilings and chapels surrounded us, but it was less ornate and gaudy than many of the other churches in Italy.

For me, the highlight of our trip was the University of Bologna. Apparently, it is one of the oldest universities in the world. As one of the first Universities in the world, many have traveled from far and wide to its doors. This can be seen in the numerous crests adorning the walls. We couldn’t help over hearing a tour that was being conducted around us as we wandered around the halls. Turns out that not all students left their mark, simply because not all the students had crests. From the symbols, you can tell where the students came from. For example, the two headed dragons are very typical of German families.

Although the University is rather small, you also have access to the anatomical theatre and law chambers. The anatomical theatres, in particular, was quite the sight. The wall and the roof were adorned with an equal mix of revered scientists and gods of mythology. I imagine that it would have been rather intimidating to be sitting there, crowded in with other students, attempting to peer over them to the dissection at the table, all while surrounded by these greats.

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The chambers were not nearly as grand, but they housed an impressive collection of books. We were able to peer further into the library, where an almost unimaginable number of books were kept. I believe that the majority of this collection is locked away from the public due to their age and rarity.

With little else planned we meandered over to Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vita. This building is probably best known for the terracotta statues inside, depicting sorrow over a dead Christ. On the world scale, these statues aren’t particularly well known, but it was easy to tell that they were real masterpieces. The expressions on the faces of the mourners and the sense of motion that they captured were simply amazing. The rest of the church felt rather secretive and peaceful. For the most part, we were the only people looking at the frescos and wandering around.


Having completed a fair bit of sight-seeing, it was time at last for lunch. Google maps helped me locate the tucked away Trattoria Gianni. Apparently, this place is fairly popular, but on a lightly drizzling Friday we managed to snag a table for two with no problems. We couldn’t go to Bologna without trying their most famous dish: ragu alla Bolognese. This is the forerunner to the now eponymous spaghetti Bolognese. Unlike the spaghetti at home, this was served on beautiful fresh tagliatelle. Rather than being saucy, it was slow cooked down to a complex meaty coating for the pasta. If you ever stumble upon this place, do save room for dessert. The semifreddo was also incredibly delicious.

The filling lunch was just what we needed before tackling the two towers of Bologna. Although Bologna is home to many towers, once part of the city’s fortifications, these two leaning towers are now the symbol of the city. Move over Pisa, the title of tallest leaning tower in Italy actually belongs to the larger of these two towers. Only the larger tower is accessible to the public. This is probably a good thing considering how precarious the shorter tower looked.

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Climbing the tallest leaning tower in Italy was no easy feat. The stairs were often uneven and could only accommodate one person at a time. This meant a lot of shuffling and waiting at landings for people going the other way. I kept thinking that we were almost there, but the climb kept going until the steps got almost impossibly steep. Somehow, we made it all the way to the top to be greeted by some truly impressive views. It started spitting lightly again as we relaxed and took in the medieval city.

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Let’s just say that going down was challenging but a lot easier than going up. At the end of that very long journey, we sat down to have gelato, of course, and contemplate the rest of the day.


Somehow we found ourselves in Basilica di Santo Stefano. This church is currently the number 1 thing to do in Bologna according to TripAdvisor. Once again, this was a rather austere church, or rather collection of churches. The complex consists of a cluster of different buildings built throughout the ages. Walking through all of them and comparing the architecture and examining the many years of wear and tear was particularly arresting.

Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore turned out to be our last stop. At this point, we were almost all churched out. I know that’s not a word, but I feel like in Italy it should be.Wandering into the church we noticed musicians setting up and tuning their instruments. The promise of a free musical show in this beautiful building was just too good to pass up. We lingered, missing a train, but enjoying the moment before finally saying goodbye to Bologna.

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More than anything else Bologna was a city of contrasts. Whilst we were walking around we were approached by a number of suspicious characters, more so than in any other city. However, the luxe shops, porticos and sports cars hinted at the other wealthier side of Bologna. There’s a lot of history in this medieval city but also a lot of human interest, from the bustling markets to a group of students dressed in historical costume that we lazily tailed for a while. Given the chance, I would love to revisit Bologna. I feel like I’ve really only scratched the surface.

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PS. To my disappointment, we didn’t get to visit the most famous church in Bologna: the hilltop Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San. This is a fair distance away and requires some planning re: transport timing. As we were doing everything so last minute, this didn’t really eventuate. If you’re keen to check it out, remember to be organised!

Work in Progress

Now that it’s a new year, it’s the perfect time to look back and reflect, but also move forward. With that in mind, it felt appropriate to revisit my 2016 goals and write some new ones for this year.

You can see my 2016 post here.

Last year was a combination of amazing and incredibly trying. I’m glad to say that I made considerable headways into the majority of my 2016 goals. Sure, I didn’t entirely succeed in all of them, especially some of the most important ones, but it’s given me pause to think about where I’m headed from here on out.

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For those of you who can’t read my terrible handwriting, I thought that I would get into a little bit more detail about my 2017 ambitions.

Blogging
Despite my somewhat sporadic posting, I think that this was the thing that I was most successful at last year. This pretty much morphed into a food blog, not that I have any qualms about that to be honest. I look forward to writing more and more consistently in 2017.

Hobbies
This is a big one for me. Through the years I’ve let some of my favourite pass times fall to the wayside in lieu of studying and procrastination. Now that I can no longer use the excuse of study I’m hoping to be able to jump back into the thick of things.

Wardrobe
Rather than focusing on obtaining dream items, I’m hoping to be able to refine my wardrobe this year. I want to purge some of the dead weight and collect more interesting and quality items. This includes lolita and normal clothes.

Social
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a creature of convenience when it comes to socialising. This is something that I would like to chance considering how many awesome people I know. So don’t be alarmed if I start reaching out to you sometime! Otherwise, I hope all my friends know that I would love to hang out with them.

It is with a lot of optimism that I begin 2017. Somehow in the past few days of 2016 I managed to come to terms with the fact that not everything will always go as I envisioned. There’s no need to justify it to anyone else or even myself.

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I hope that this year is full of happiness and positive revelations for you and for me too!

Ciao Italy: Venice islands

I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to title this post Venice islands, seeing as excluding Venice Mestre it’s all just islands! None the less, I’ll be sticking with this title just to differentiate it from my other post!

When I woke up I was greeted by sunshine and the breeze. The weather was beyond perfect for a day of exploring. Good thing I started the day early, because as I was walking over to the vapporetto stop for Murano I was constantly distracted by the private looking churches and historical government buildings.

After many a detour I was finally on my way over to Murano. Of all the islands, Murano is the closet. It only took 20 or so minutes to get there. Although it was a little crowded the fantastic view more than made up for it.

Murano

Venice is well known for its hand blown glass. That hand blown glass comes from the island of Murano. It’s impossible to miss all the stores selling colourful glass and the giant glass art installation right near the clock tower. The tiny little glass miniatures in the stores were really impressive and I was tempted to buy a few bits and bobs every time I went inside a store. The only thing that stopped me was my limited funds and the pain of having to transport glassware back home.

Less the opulent grandeur of the important buildings in the main island of Venice, Murano felt almost like a different more place entirely. Charming, rather than overwhelming. The churches were also worth a quick peek inside.

There’s also a glass museum, but I decided to give it a miss in favour of going off to spend more time in Burano.

Burano

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Burano is well known for its colourful buildings. Almost all the houses are painted in varying bright shades making it a real sight to behold! It’s impossible not to be swept up along with the fairy tale setting. There were so many couples taking romantic photos and people posing in front of the buildings and it’s easy to see why. If Ryan where with me I probably would have made him do the same.

The cutest thing that I saw was an elderly couple putting out their laundry at the front of the house. It led me to wonder what do the (mostly elderly) residents of this tiny little island think of the tourists that come by every day. How do they maintain the brightly coloured houses? And how do they deal with being in everyone’s holiday snaps?

Ponderings aside, I knew that I had to visit the lace museum. It was hard to photograph all of the delicate handmade laces but trust me when I say that there were so intricate and beautiful. I just wanted to take some of it home and craft with it. I also really enjoyed learning about the process of hand making lace. The museum itself was on the small side and easy to get through. As much as I enjoyed it if you’re not a lace aficionado like me, it’s definitely not a must see.

Connected to Burano via a small bridge is also another small island. I’m not too sure what this was apart from maybe a vineyard and a church? It was almost deserted apart from me, a family and a gardener.  At that time, it really felt like I had gone back in time or straight into one of the fantasy novels that I’ve read.

Much to my delight there were also a lot of cats, which I spent an inordinate amount of time chasing and photographing.

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Torcello

Torcello is perhaps the smallest of the islands I visited. Although once an important historical trading centre, Torcello is now a very sparsely populated island with only a handful of sites and residents.

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The route around the island is almost one direct path. At the end you’re faced with the most notably landmarks: Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta and the church of Santa Fosca. The two churches right next to each other. The main draw card seemed to be the impressive golden mosaics in the church. As for the rest of the church, unlike some of the gilded cathedrals I had seen earlier, this was much sparser. Precisely because of this the years of history behind the churches was just that much more apparent.

To my great surprise, I was completely heads over heels enamoured with Torcello. Despite the tourists, it didn’t feel too crowded. I was so relaxed because I knew that there really wasn’t all that much to see. So it was bliss to just walk around in the afternoon sun and think about what I had done so far.

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I decided to head back to the main island of Venice before it got too dark. It’s impossible to get sick of wandering the streets and just taking in the sites. I snapped a quick picture of the back of the rialto bridge just to prove that I had been there in spite of the construction.

Some more photos for good measure.

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Tips:

If you plan to go to the outlying islands I cannot recommend getting a travel card enough! Individual trips can get pretty pricey and add up quickly. The cards take the hassle out of needing to keep a tight watch over how long you can spend at places before needing to buy a new ticket.

It’s also definitely possible to fit in more islands or exhibits but if you do I recommend starting early.

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Ciao Italy: Turin

In case you can’t tell, I had such a great time in Italy that blogging sort of slipped my mind! It’s been a while since I’ve returned and I’ve been busy with winter class and work. I actually considered not writing about this trip because there’s just so much to cover but I think that would be doing a disservice to the entire reason why I started blogging! Also, sorry for the grainy photos I need to get a better photo editor for my laptop. If you have any recommendations please let me know.

Basically, I was based in Florence for one month while I studied and I bookended this time neatly with some travel in the North and South of Italy. To make sense of my time in Italy I’m going to be doing a city by city run down of the places I went to in a roughly chronological order. Obviously, because I stayed in Florence for so long I’ll be dedicating multiple posts to Florence, some of which are just going to be simple café or gelato reviews.

Day 1: Torino

So, let’s get right into things and start at the beginning at Turin, or in Italian Torino.

It was the perfect place to start to get my first taste of Italy. It also definitely helped that I had a friend in Turin who helped my find my footing when I first arrived! She helped me find the place I was staying at, which was super conveniently located: just a few minutes away from Porta Susa station.

We just wandered around the streets, looked at the stores and caught up again after not having seen each other in so long! This being my first time in Europe I was completely smitten with absolutely everything, from the cobbled walked ways to the piazzas and traditional architecture.

Day 2 Torino

I was meeting my friend again for dinner this night but I had the rest of the day to check out the city sites. My air bnb hosts had left a few pamphlets in my room that helped introduce the area. Palazzo Reale immediately caught my eye because, well, simply put, it was a palace!

The walk from Porta Susa station to the city centre is a pleasant 20 minute stroll. There wasn’t all that much to see on the way there, but I have feeling that’s because I took a direct route over instead of the main pedestrian walk way which is filled with shops.

One you’re actually right in the thick of things, most of the attractions are fairly close. However, being a Saturday a lot of them also had long lines out the front. The entrance to Palazzo Reale was considerably less crowded and within 10 minutes I had a ticket in hand and was ready to explore.

The Palace used to be home to the royal family of Savoy who united Italy, making it the kingdom of Italy. Connected to the palace is also an armoury, chapel, museum and garden. Entrance to the garden is free and there were plenty of people relaxing on the grass or taking a leisurely stroll.

As soon as I stepped foot into the actual Palace I was completely blown away. Even though the Palazzo Reale in Turin isn’t really touted as one of the great palaces of Italy I will always remember it as one of my first encounters with the grandeur of the old world. In Australia there’s nothing that quite compares to the palaces and castles in Europe.

The furnished apartments felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the piazza outside. I was immediately smitten with each and every room, with all the beautifully painted frescos and ornate furniture. The armoury was a real highlight. This massive hallway housed an incredible array of weapons, suits of armour (for men and for horses!) and artillery. Even after visiting a few more palaces, the armoury still stands out due to the sheer scale and variety of what was on display.

The museum and art gallery are also worth a quick pit stop. If only to sit down for a while and to get the most out of the price of the admission.

As for the rest of the day, I just wandered about aimlessly. I walked passed piazza castello, turin tower (which houses the national museum of theatre) and numerous other piazzas before finding myself facing the river Po. Just across from the river is the Chiesa della gran madre di dio. The church itself bears a strong resemblance to the pantheon in Rome, and I was intrigued enough to go across the bridge and check it out. In what will soon become a theme on my Italy adventures, once I reached the church I took my time, resting my legs and snapping pictures from the steps onto piazza Vittorio Veneto.

Before too long my friend showed up, and off we went for appertivo at Blanco Torino which was conveniently located right in the piazza. The rest of the night was spent checking out the Torino jazz festival which just happened to be on while I was visiting and also another night of aimless wandering.
Day 3 Torino

I was lucky enough to be invited over to my friend’s place for an Italian Sunday lunch. She lives a little bit out from the city centre, but getting to her house was pretty easy and fast thanks to the subway.

What greeted me when I arrived was a veritable feast. I was almost full after the appetisers but somehow I still manged to fit in a generous slice of lasagne, quiche. The lasagne was amazingly cheesy and delicious. By the time that we got the dessert I was started to feel thoroughly defeated by the largest slice of tiramisu I had ever encountered. I probably would have given up if it weren’t for the fact that it was the best tiramisu that I had ever had in my life!

All cheesed out I was content to watch movies and trashy tv shows with my friend until we went out again at night for some drinking games and to meet more people.

Day 4 Torino

The Monday was actually Liberation day, which is an Italian public holiday. Interestingly, Italians are just like Australians in that they love to have BBQs on public holidays! So in keeping with tradition, we went to parco della pellerina for a day of BBQ and playing games. As an international guest I got to arrive to the BBQ late and grace people with my presence rather than with actual food and drinks.

We made sure to leave some room for gelato from the nearby Gelato Corso Telesio which my friend had really hyped up. This really exceeded the hype, as 2 euros landed me two seriously giant scoops of panna cotta and blue berry gelato. I happily polished this off as the sun started to go down and we lounged around in the sun. The day was capped off with a good long gossip session and of course some more food.

Day 5 Torino

Before I left for Milan I manged to squeeze in a quick visit to the Egyptian museum. The museum is actually a big drawcard for a lot of people, as it is the second largest Egyptian museum in the world, second only to the museum in Cairo. During the weekend, the lines for the museum were incredibly long, winding all through the entrance and down the street but I manged to walk right in on Tuesday morning.

Although the tickets are on the pricier side, the pricing automatically includes an audio guide. As I was in a bit of a rush to get through everything I didn’t have enough time to stand around listening to detailed explanations.  It would have really been preferable to buy a cheaper ticket without it.

As for the museum itself, there is definitely a lot to see. To be honest, I had come into the museum expecting to see all the glitz and gold of the Tutenkaman exhibition that had come to Melbourne many years ago, but this was almost the complete opposite! There was actually a lot of focus on early Ancient Egyptian artefacts with a slow build up to the new kingdom and the eventual conquering of Egypt by the Romans. I really enjoyed being able to track the evolution of the mummification process from simple ground burials with the bodies turned to the side, to the much more elaborate procedures that we now associate with the Ancient Egyptians.

Interestingly, a lot of the museum actually told the story of the archaeologist who had excavated the digs. It certainly added an extra sense of wonder to the exhibits as you imagined being with these people, discovering the first time, these ancient treasures. As I explored more of Italy I would some come to realise that Italians, and perhaps all Europeans had a real fascination with ancient Egypt. Almost every large museum I went to invariably had something from Ancient Egypt or something influenced from it. In this way, it was interesting to start at this museum which helped provide such rich background into it all.

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My first impression of Italy? In one word: overwhelming. Almost everything was breath taking because of just how incredibly different it was to Australia and all the other places I’ve visited. Seeing so many castles, piazzas and churches felt totally new and refreshing. Even though I didn’t actually do all that much in the way of touristy things, thanks to me friend everything felt really relaxed and I had a small glimpse into what everyday life in Italy might be like.

Tip:

To get to Italy I flew with Qatar airlines. Even though I usually have an aversion to flying to long haul flight was relatively comfortable. I managed to get some sleep and keep down what I ate with the help of some meds. The immigration line at Doha airport was a complete nightmare on my way over, but on the way back things could not have been more different and I had plenty of time to spare.

I actually flew into Milan airport and then took the bus to Turin as I found these flights to be a lot cheaper than flying to Turin directly. The tickets were booked online with Sadem (http://www.sadem.it/en/prodotti/collegamento-aeroporti/milano-malpensa-airport.aspx) although you can also buy tickets in person at the airport. I had plenty of time once I got to the airport as the customs officials were pretty relaxed and my luggage arrived really quickly.

The only phone company that provides 3g in Milan airport is Vodafone. Their plan is 30 euros for 30 days with 2gb. It’s not the cheapest deal around, but the connection is pretty good and most importantly it is super convenient as you can get it as soon as you collect your luggage.

In Turin, as well as the rest of Italy really, if you’re going to take the tram or the subway buy your return tickets at the same time as your departure ones if you can. This is because sometimes there won’t be a ticket station where you’re headed or the line will be so long that you might miss your train!

Announcement

I’m flying off to Italy for a month and a half long study abroad experience. I’ve set up a bit of a queue so that my blog will still be active and hopefully when I settle in a little I can tell you all about my adventures in Italy!

Otherwise, if I disappear for a little while, don’t be alarmed. I’ll see you soon!

Stay well, healthy and happy.