Studio Ghibli Museum

For anyone with a passing interest in anime or animated films, Studio Ghibli is a big deal. Studio Ghibli’s films are famous for their sense of whimsy and wonder. The Studio Ghibli museum, located in Mitaka, is as much its own little magical wonderland as it is an informative look into the makings of Ghibli films.

Photos aren’t allowed inside the museum but you have free reign in the courtyards and rooftop. As an artist, my favourite sections were the rather romantic recreations of the studio and storyboards. Ryan preferred the lively evolution of the animated film. He was especially taken with an impressive rotating display featuring characters from My Neighbour Totoro.

There are a few options in the way of food. The takeout counter offers a very limited menu of snacks such as soft serve, hot dogs and drinks. For something a bit more substantial the Straw Hat Cafe serves curries, sandwiches and more. However, it is incredibly popular! When we passed by the wait time to get into the cafe was already at 2 hours. If you can’t wait that long I recommend leaving the museum and heading towards Inokashira park.

Cafe du Lievre is an incredibly charming cafe right in the middle of the trees, just 10 minutes walk away from the museum. Full glass windows and mismatched furniture continues the whimsical Ghibli theme without the need to wait. French style crepes, both sweet and savoury makeup most of the menu, but there’s also a wide range of teas and coffee to go along with your meal.


Tickets MUST be booked in advance. There are multiple ways to do this. if you have a decent grasp of Japanese and will be in Japan for some time, the cheapest way to do this is at a LAWSONS convenience store. Tickets go on sale on the 10th of each month for the following month. Even if you don’t understand Japanese just follow this simple guide for buying tickets from the Loppi machine and you’ll be fine.

Otherwise, the easiest method is to purchase through the JTB website of your country. Tickets go on sale on the first of each month for the following four months. This basically means that the best time to get tickets in four months in advance of your designated day. In return for the convenience and certainty of getting tickets through JTB, the prices are significantly more expensive.

There is an exclusive animated short film that ONLY shows at the Studio Ghibli Museum. It only shows at set times during the day, so it’s recommended that you arrive at least an hour before the museum closes to catch it.

Studio Ghibli museum



Japan Travel Diary 2017 2 weeks in Tokyo


Sometimes I find it difficult to describe Tokyo. What is the real Tokyo? Is it the crowds scrambling across the road in Shibuya? The carefully tended gardens of the Imperial gardens? The frantic energy of shop girls as sales season descends upon Harajuku? The moments of reverie found in the temples and shrines dotted everywhere? Or the uniform steps of salary men and women making their way to and from work?

Although Tokyo is commonly known as a city that never sleeps, to me it is also a city of dreams. I think that I am so enraptured by this metropolis because it is all of these things that I love, all at once. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences and I will be among the first to tell people that Japan has its fair share of seedy and downright disturbing. Even then, Tokyo has an almost electrifying magnetic pull. I know that it won’t be too long before I return again.

It took me a few visits to Japan before I eventually got to my favourite places in Tokyo. Even then I am still constantly discovering new suburbs, restaurants, and shops that I can’t help but effusively gush over.

I won’t be writing a day by day run down of my two weeks in Tokyo. Instead, this post is just the start of a long list of places that I visited and enjoyed. It’s a little haphazard, but do check back as I hope to update often.

To do
One Piece Tokyo Tower
Imperial Gardens and Palace
Kasai Rinkai Park
Tsukiji markets
Shinjuku views (Metropolitan government building)
Ghibli Museum
Temari no ouchi cat cafe

To eat

Hidemi Sugino
Berry Parlour (cafe comme ca)
Patisserie Paris S’eveille
Patisserie Dominique Ansel
Salon Bake and Tea
Takano Fruits parlour
Pierre Herme
Patisserie Bien-etre
Parfait run down

Fine Dining 
Jimbocho Den
Le Sputnik
La Table de Joël Robuchon
Beige by Alan Ducasse

All C’s cafe
Potato Cream cafe
Aoyama flower market tea house (Aoyama / Akasaka)
Tolo Bakery and Cafe
Salon Ginza Sabou
Cafe du Lievre

Casual Eateries 
Sushi Midori
Sushi Zanmai
Sushi Dai
French Curry Spoon
Samurai Soup Curry
Ginza Kagari
Ramen Afuri

Sakurai tea house

If you have any recommendations please let me know! I can’t wait to discover your version of Tokyo as well.


Japan Travel Diary 2017: Tottori

Ryan and I often joke that our trips to Japan are pilgrimages, but not in the traditional sense. We have intentionally and unintentionally made our way over to some of the key destinations in the manga Honey and Clover. Both of us unabashedly love this slice of life manga and the depiction of Japan within. It’s thanks to Honey and Clover that I know what and where Tottori is. Since then the image of snow flakes falling on sand dunes overlooking the sea of Japan has rather enchanted me.

Tottori day 9

The information desk at Tottori station is very helpful. We managed to buy discounted tickets for the sand museum and picked up a few guides as to bus times and locations. Although the township of Tottori is on the smaller side, the prefecture is rather large and sprawling, so it’s important to get on the right bus!

One of the last stops for our bus route was at a large gift store and look out. Usually, Ryan is not one to be swayed by the colourful boxes of beautiful omiyage at almost every transit location in Japan. However, here there were samples of almost every single snack. This marketing tactic evidently worked, as we walked away laden with pear jelly, cake, tea juice and more! Even if you’re not interested in picking up omiyage I recommend climbing up to the top of the lookout to get a panoramic view.

Tottori sand Museum is not far from the lookout or the dunes. There’s a range of large scale sand sculptures houses indoors. This year’s exhibit was somewhat bizarrely American themed. I found it a touch odd to be celebrating all things American culture in the middle of Japan. Especially in this current political climate where I’m not all too sure if that many Americans are actually all that proud of America. None the less the sand sculptures were all fairly impressive in both scale and detail and not all that expensive to see.

The real drawcard of Tottori is the sand dunes. We took the rather short (both in height and distance) rope way down to the dunes. The sand dunes are something that really has to be seen to be believed. The greenery of the mountains gives way to these immense hills of sand before meeting the sea. From the rope way station, there’s a towering expanse of incredibly soft sand. It was liberating to take off my shoes and feel the warm sand between my toes.



There’s also plenty to do apart from admiring the scenery. When we arrived there were people conducting short camel rides and others paragliding amongst the dunes. I’m sure that this would be a magical sight as the sun sets across the dunes, but the lack of reliable transport meant that this wasn’t really an option for us.

Ray Garden seems like a bit of an anomaly out on the winding road. The cafe and restaurant is also a function space. The photo book in the door made it seem like a popular spot for weddings. It also happened to be the perfect spot for a bit of afternoon tea in the form of cake and tea. A light chiffon cake staved off the lunch time hunger that was creeping on.

With the breeze picking up we caught the bus back into town. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring. I use the world exploring in the loosest sense. We ended up following a bunch of high school kids to a supermarket and Mcdonalds. I guess it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, students will always gravitate towards the nearest Mcdonalds.

In some ways, this was strangely nostalgic. When I was on exchange in Japan, the town I stayed in was definitely far away from the bright lights and big happenings. This little sojourn took me back to those days where I spent most of my time thinking about what to have for dinner, and which supermarket was better to shop at.

There are a few guides at the station that point out where to eat in Tottori. Most of them pointed to Tottori Daizen. Even though it wasn’t the season for crab Ryan still insisted on trying a crab set, since Tottori is supposedly famous for it! It definitely wasn’t the finest or most delicate food but the portions were exceedingly generous, especially for the price. I usually pride myself on being able to finish everything but here most of the rice was left in my bowl.

Tottori is one of the more obscure places that you can visit while in Japan. Even in peak tourist season, there was hardly anyone about. In fact, most of the visitors seemed a little confused and disorientated, wondering what they were doing. Tottori presents itself almost as a liminal space. It is quaint yet somehow arresting in its small town ways and cacophony of nature. I wouldn’t say that Tottori is for everyone, or even a must visit, but it’s definitely something I’m glad I experienced even if it wasn’t the season for snow.

Trips to Tottori are not fully covered by the JR pass. There is an 1820 yen supplement fee as the train takes non JR tracks for a portion of the journey.  The transport within Tottori is also not covered by JR. On the weekends it is possible to take a Kirin Jishi Loop Bus. A daily pass will only cost 600 yen. Otherwise, an ordinary bus to the sand dunes from the station is 370 yen one way. Make sure you check the bus timetable from the dunes because they don’t leave all that frequently.

We stayed in APA Tottori ekimae. It is roughly 5 minutes away from the station and located away from the main thoroughfare. Tottori is very much a small town and without a car, it’s difficult to leave the central area and explore further afield.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

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.


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.


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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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: 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.


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.

Starting from late 2016 you can now pre-book your climb of the duomo ( 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.


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.


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!

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.

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 ( for a small fee of 4 euro per ticket or even better, calling up and getting a reservation for no extra cost.



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.


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.


Boboli gardens and Pitti palace
The closest I ever got to these gardens was actually sitting on the steep stone incline outside and sun baking. 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.

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.


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 unless 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, it 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: A detailed and almost invaluable resource that goes above and beyond the general lists (like this one!) that dot the internet. 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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


Ciao Italy: Siena

After a bit of a break and a trip to Sydney, we are now returning to my Italy posts! Siena isn’t too far away from Florence so my friend and I decided that it would be perfect for a leisurely day trip.

The actual town of Siena is a bit of a distance from the train station. This meant that we had to take a short bus ride over. It was a little confusing as we walked through a small shopping centre but before too long we found signs pointing us in the right direction.

To me, Piazza del campo is the heart of Siena. It is here that every year the famous Palio horse race takes place. On one side of the piazza is Fonte Gaia. Although it is fenced off, you can still appreciate how amazed the people of Siena would have been after years of pipe building finally led to the creation of this fountain.

Another town, another tower to climb! Torre del Mangia is situated on the other side of the piazza. It wasn’t as challenging or narrow as the leaning tower of Bologna, but I still needed to rest and catch my breath multiple times. The view from the top of the tower is incredibly beautiful. Because the city is on the smaller side, and there’s so much greenery around the contrast between the medieval town and everything else is that much greater.

The very top of the tower is actually only accessible via steep ladder-like steps. My fear of heights meant that getting up and down this was very slow going, but the feeling of accomplishment at the top was well worth it.


Having done our exercise for the day it was time for lunch! With some help from Tripadvisor, we found ourselves in a car park in front of Gino Cacino di Angelo. After much indecision, Angelo helped us put on this veritable feast. This wine was exceptional, not too dry and perfect with the meats and cheeses. Just thinking about it is making me drool.

Some more aimless wandering was in order to work off the meal before we headed to the Siena duomo. This is one of the most visually impressive Cathedrals that I had the pleasure of visiting in Italy. From the façade to the interior Siena’s historical wealth is abundantly clear.

I was particularly impressed with the mosaic floor. Most of it is covered up throughout the year to prevent wear but some of the most impressive works are always on display. The slaughter of the innocents is probably one of my favourite pieces. From the inside of the building, you can also walk into the adjoining Piccolomini Library. Every inch of the library was ornately decorated. I almost hurt my neck craning up to see the frescos. I loved the royal blue colours.


When presented with the opportunity to some steps and get another view of the city we gladly took it. There was a bit of a wait to climb the Facciatone. Only small groups are allowed up on the unbuilt façade of the duomo at a time and there are time limits imposed on how long you can stay up there.


The baptistery of San Giovanni is actually also part of the duomo structure. It shares the same striking green façade but has an entirely separate entrance that is down a flight of stairs. Just moments before we entered there had been some sort of event going on, with many formally dressed Italians milling around. I love how these historical buildings are still very much in use today!

Before heading back to the station we got lost wandering around. We found ourselves in a handful of churches, as always seems to be the case no matter where you are in Italy and almost took the wrong bus back. Luckily my friend asked the bus driver and we made it safely back to Florence.

I am incredibly fond of Siena; perhaps unreasonably so. The absolutely perfect weather and leisurely pace at which I enjoyed the city contributed significantly to my impressions of the city as a whole.  The town is an absolute joy to walk through, although your legs might get sore from all the hills. I’ll leave you with this photo that I took of a local school’s art fair at the base of the tower. I wonder if you can get any more Italian than this pasta art!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Ciao Italy: Florence gelato

Florence was unlike the other Italian cities I visited. Not because it was unique in its culture, architecture or food, but rather because it was my home, albeit only for a month. I lived in Florence while I was studying. So rather than write about Florence through the lens of a traveler going through each day I thought that it would be better to write a series of posts about Florence. Of course this will include visits to some tourist hot spots but I would also like to write about some other things than I enjoyed, such as the restaurants, shops or walks that I went on.

The obvious place to start is my so called area of expertise: gelato. When I was in Italy I ate almost one gelato a day. It’s definitely not an exaggeration to say that there is a gelato shop every couple of metres in Florence.

Here’s my personal favourites in Florence:


Gelateria Edoardo. This is located conveniently near the Duomo. This is a perennial favourite amongst the young student population of Florence.  You’ll be able to smell the freshly made waffle cones from Edoardo before you even enter. I highly recommend getting your gelato in these cones. They are soft and intensely flavoured, offering something a little bit different to the usual cone. The chianti wine and fresh egg white with wine are my favourites. As an added bonus, the also offer vegan flavours!


I can’t help but have a soft spot for Il Procopio. This was the closest Gelato store to the apartment where I stayed and it was a real gem. The gelato cakes were lovely and the 2011 Gelato world festival winning flavour is still a winner in my books.


Gelateria La Carraia is one of the most popular gelato spots in Florence. It is located on the other side of the Arno river. The gelato is creamy and flavourful. Their display cabinet of flavours is so long that it’s impossible to see what you want from first glance.


Antica Gelateria Fiorentina located near the leather markets and san Lorenzo church is on this list because it offers some of the most interesting flavours I have come across! The orange, cinnamon and ricotta was an unexpected pleasure. They also offer a matcha flavour, which for Italy is almost unheard of!


Gelateria Santa Trinita. Last but certainly not least. This was actually my favourite gelateria in Florence. I found myself constantly returning to it and taking friends. This is another popular spot, where you need to be prepared to line for a little bit at popular gelato eating times. However, the line moves quick and the girls who work there are very efficient. They have a range of interesting and rotating flavours such as black sesame and cake or paradise. However, the classic Amerena (cherry) and yoghurt is one of my top picks. The pink décor, fresh flowers and view of ponte vechio are an added aesthetic bonus.

The next list is a few other noteworthy options. These can be found in almost other part of Italy, so it’s not a Florentine must try. However, if you happen to be standing near one and have a few extra euro to spare (as they are a bit more expensive than your standard cup or cone of gelato) there’s definitely no harm in trying them.


Venchi is famous for chocolate but their gelato is also nothing to sneeze at. Whereas the cappuccino gelato was delicious the fruity mango flavour I tried didn’t entirely stack up. There’s one in Santa Maria Nouvella station and another near Piazza della Signora. Both stores can get rather busy and some flavours will be gone if you don’t get to them early enough in the day.

Grom is almost everywhere in Italy. This is located near the Duomo, down a side alley. They have a range of rotating flavours. Sadly it seems I don’t have a photo of their gelato to show you!


Don Nino has both sweet treats and gelato a plenty. Once again, they have a branch near the Duomo and another in the station, this time in the underground shopping mall. If you’re hankering or a gelato but someone else wants a cake or cannoli (which I also highly recommend), this is the place to be. The branch near the Duomo has plenty of seating and is open late into the night. They also offer whipped cream and chocolate on top of your gelato for no extra cost, or rather the cost is already factored into the admittedly expensive price. The maximum cone pictured here does cost extra though. The pistachio flavour is my favourite.

If you know what to avoid, almost all the gelato that you eat will be good. Some will be better or more unique than others but if you steer clear of overpriced tourist traps and artificial whipped gelato you’re almost guaranteed to have a good time for just a few euro.