Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eurotrip2011: A summary

So, dear readers, after close to two months abroad here is my final post on our European/Middle Eastern/Australasian adventure. For my beloved and I, emotions were certainly a strange melange of happiness and sadness upon our return. While we missed our families, cat babies and the stability of home life in Melbourne, we thoroughly enjoyed our time away, catching up with old (and making new) friends and the lack of work/study stress for two months. 

We have now been back from our holiday for nearly three months, during which time my knee has been successfully reconstructed, our wedding has been booked in, half a semester of university has passed and work continues to be hectic. Needless to say, life's been busy!

In summary, our time away was simply fantastic! We learnt a great deal about who we are and, moreover, how fortunate we are to lead the lives we do (and indeed to have the opportunity to travel in the first place). So as not to forget our wonderful adventures abroad, I have compiled a list of our "favourites", which I have linked back to relevant posts. Enjoy!

Favourite moment:
Favourite food moments: 
Places I'm most excited to return to:

Wow, that list was harder to compile than I initially anticipated. There were literally so many magic moments scattered throughout the course of the trip that it is difficult to pinpoint "favourites" and "bests". All I can say that I'm thrilled to have kept a diary (of sorts) of our trip and I am sure it will prove to be a source of endless amusement/embarrassment in years to come.

Thanks for sticking with me throughout my Eurotrip2011 journalling and please stay tuned, as this blog gets back to its roots - food and frolicking. 

Eurotrip2011: Day 55

Kuala Lumpur - Melbourne

Once again the spectacular Westin breakfast took at least 90 minutes of our time as we frolicked (okay, maybe it was more like rolled by the end of the meal!) between rooms of internationally themed food. Trust me, you've got to try this buffet if you're ever in the vicinity! At mid-morning we checked out of the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to find our airport taxi already waiting for us - superior customer service - that's KL in a nutshell.

We headed to the airport (roughly 45 minutes to an hour from the city centre depending on traffic and the craziness of one's taxi driver), where we tried to find out any information we could on the volcanic ash cloud that was (then) hovering above south east Australia. Nobody seemed to have any information (or indeed be in the least bit phased!) and what was particularly troubling was that no airlines apart from Emirates seemed to be taking the risk of flying.

Once aboard the plane, I questioned a number of Emirates employees about the situation. Still no answer. The captain didn't provide clarity on the situation at any time during the flight, not even once detailing possible changes to the route or just reassuring us that we were in good hands. All the while, our inflight BBC news update was displaying the "dangerous" ash cloud as their number one story of the day. Do you think I got as much as a wink of sleep on the flight? No way, José.

But I'm writing this post months on, so clearly I survived the ordeal. The upside to all the airline cancellations was that my beloved and I made it through customs in record time. We were back to our humble abode at around 3am and were both giddy with happiness to be reunited with our felines, celebrating with a wee drop of port (and a wee drop of cat milk for them) before falling into the comfort of our own bed - bliss!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 54

Kuala Lumpur

After 54 days abroad, this morning was one that I had been looking forward to every day of our holiday. Why? The Westin's buffet breakfast, of course. This veritable feast is by far the best breakfast I have ever consumed. And consumed it I have (on four occasions to be precise!). There are literally rooms of food, from Indian curries and freshly cooked roti, to teh tarik and laksa, to meaty/eggy western-style options, to more delicate Japanese tidbits, to freshly made baked goods with pot-set yoghurt and home made compote. I could go on...

We set aside over 90 minutes to optimise our breakfast consumption (i.e. cram in as much as was physically possible!) and then set out for a little walk. Finding ourselves at the foot of the Petronas Twin Towers, my beloved and I couldn't resist the lure of airconditioning in the Suria KLCC mall contained within. After a refreshing drink and a stickybeak in some of the shops, jet lag simultaneously hit us like a tonne of bricks. As such, we headed back to our hotel for a quick afternoon nap.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, my beloved and I collected our glasses from Sungei Wang and I even managed to pick up a cute little cotton Summer dress from DKNY (not even jet lag can get between me and a bargain!). We spent the rest of the evening exploring central KL at a leisurely pace and gobbled up a cheap curry laksa for dinner. Despite being well and truly satisfied, I couldn't resist purchasing two of my favourite Malaysian sweets for dessert - ice kacang and cendol.

Back at the hotel, my beloved and I tried desperately to fall asleep, but, owing to jet lag, failed miserably. After midnight we decided that nasi lemak would be the only way to get through the night. Oddly enough, the dish indeed had the desired sleep-inducing effect and we finally found ourselves in the land of nod.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 53

Dubai - Kuala Lumpur

After a quick break to stretch our legs in Dubai, we were back in the air for another largely sleepless flight to Kuala Lumpur. I am an avid lover of all things Malaysia and have visited the country a number of times (oh how I love a good nasi lemak followed by an icy cendol!), but our experience coming through immigration this time was: So. Very. Slow. After more than two hours of queuing (and my rising desire for some Malaysian curry!), we were *finally* ready to explore KL.

We jumped into an airport limo, to our fabulous hotel - the Westin KL. Now, I don't usually use this forum to rave about hotels, but the Westin in KL certainly deserves all accolades that come its way. We have twice stayed on the executive floor of this hotel and find the staff to be second to none and the food (particularly the breakfast in their "Living Room" restaurant and the evening canapés) to be just wonderful!

We arrived in the late afternoon, checked into the hotel, gobbled up some of the complementary snacks and drinks from the lounge and headed to the nearby Sungei Wang plaza to order some ridiculously cheap prescription glasses. Optik 2000 has been my optometrist of choice in KL for a number of years. I simply bring my prescription from Australia and within a matter or hours (or overnight) pick up my new spectacles for a fraction of the price of the Australian equivalent. On this trip, we purchased three pairs of prescription glasses (one of which was a pair of prescription sunglasses) for only $110AUD - crazy!

After leaving our optical order with the good folk at Optik 2000, we headed back towards our hotel and decided to refuel at the food court in the Pavillion shopping centre. As an ostensibly cleaner option than some of the street hawker food, this food court provides the hungry traveller with diverse yet affordable options. We shared a hot pot and a fish soup, washed down with sugar cane and soursop juices. A green tea/red bean/mochi concoction was a dessert highlight.

Bellies full, my beloved was keen to try the Kenko fish spa upstairs - yes, yes - the one where the creepy fish chomp away on your feet to remove dry skin...like so:

It was somewhat amusing (to put it mildly!) to see my beloved giggle like a schoolgirl as his feet were being nibbled by the diminutive fish. As a fish spa veteran, I was slightly less hysterical...but that didn't mean I maintained perfect composure throughout the experience!

With silky smooth feet, my beloved and I padded back across the road to our hotel. We briefly enjoyed the view from our room (see below), before falling absolutely exhausted into bed.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 52

Borgio Verezzi - Milan - Dubai

I apologise for posting for a second consecutive day with very little to report (thanks to the bulk of the day being spent on an aircraft). We farewelled our lovely Italian neighbours early in the morning and drove our shiny, black Mercedes to Milan airport. We needed a quick pit stop along the highway, where this (extremely nutritionally balanced!) treat caught my eye.

As a massive fan of Nutella and in need of a sugar hit, this package of iced tea, dipping sticks and Nutella totally hit the spot!

Once at the airport, we chomped into some lunch (why is it that airport food is always so disappointing?) and boarded our plane for a largely uneventful, but sadly sleep-deprived flight to Dubai. In Dubai, we enjoyed a stretch of our legs and the airport's complimentary wi-fi after nearly a week of no internet access. Once our inboxes were cleared, it was time for the next leg of our exciting journey - Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 51

Borgio Verezzi

Our final full day spent in the Italian Riviera area was extremely low key. Indeed, it probably doesn't even warrant a post! It was a day of cake, cribbage, crosswords and getting over my cold. My beloved appeared to be going somewhat stir crazy after three straight days of "nothing", but for me, the lull in activity was worth it to stymie what may have otherwise evolved into an utterly heinous head cold.

Oh, and I just can't resist - one more photo (this time a panorama) of our view for good measure!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 50

Borgio Verezzi

After a much-needed sleep in, my beloved and I wandered all of twenty metres to our sun-flooded terrace, overlooking the ocean, where we devoured a breakfast of Italian rice cake (torta di riso), fresh olive bread, sun-dried tomatoes and coffee - bliss! We sat discussing our plans for the day. Should we drive to Monaco? Should we explore the towns of the Italian riviera? With 50 straight days of travelling under our belts and a view like this on offer, what do you think we opted to do?

That's right, folks - we scarcely moved from our terrace. The morning was filled with a much overdue pampering sesh for yours truly - a self-applied facial, manicure and pedicure were on the menu. We both enjoyed the morning sun while reading our books (note to self: do not read books about the numerous ways the human race may be annihilated while trying to unwind on the Italian riviera), and, as the heat became too strong, we headed into town to our favourite little pasticceria to pick up supplies.

It came as a rather rude shock that the "siesta" of the Italian Riviera is even longer than in Spain - most places were closed between midday and 4pm! We passed the time with some fresh fruit granita until stores opened.

Our evening was spent playing cards, reading and generally rejuvenating. We debated long and hard about whether our view improved with nightfall...but came to no resolution. I'll leave it to you to decide...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 49

Rome - Borgio Verezzi

After farewelling our Swedish travel companions, my beloved and set off towards Rome Termini station to commence our five hour journey from Rome to Genoa. We arrived at the car hire company in Genoa at around 1:30pm and noticed that they were closed until 2:30pm. Fortunately, there was a friendly and cheap restaurant next door, where we spent an hour devouring lunch. One of the waiters took particular interest in my beloved and I, telling us that his dream was to one day visit Australia. He took it upon himself to explain all of the Italian desserts on offer in great detail - a very sweet touch!

After a very filling midday meal, we headed next door to pick up what we thought would be a small vehicle. The owners apologised profusely that none of the smaller cars were available and instead offered us this shiny, black beast:

Needless to say, my beloved was on cloud nine!

We drove the easy one hour coastal route to Borgio Verezzi and very much enjoyed the view. The drive up the windy, mountainside to reach our accommodation (the holiday house of some very dear friends) was gut-wrenching to say the least..but the view was well worth it, don't you think?

Our neighbours were a elderly Italian couple, who spoke no English. The wife was, however, able to converse fluently in French and was more than happy to allow me to practise my language skills with her during our three night stay. She suggested that we head down to the coast to explore the beaches and purchase some "survival rations".

We heeded her advice and first visited the beach below. Sadly, this is a pebble beach and was far more polluted than its Australian counterparts. My beloved ventured into the water, but remained immersed for only a couple of minutes, citing floating rubbish as the reason for his quick return to shore. This did not seem to deter the many other tourists in the water....each to their own.

After our brief stint on the beach, we headed to the centre of the small town and found a delightful pasticceria that was full of locally made delicacies - fresh pasta, cakes, breads, organic fruit and veg and even a bottle or two of wine. We purchased fettuccine, tomato/basil sauce, salad, olive panini, cake and wine (all made/grown within 50km of the shop) and finally enjoyed some "home cooking"(or at least it felt that way!) on the spectacular terrace - bliss!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 48


Waking with a full blown head cold, meant a slow start to the day. We ate our millionth (or so it seemed!) hotel buffet breakfast at around 9am and then made our way to the Colosseum.

Although we had pre-booked and printed tickets, lines weren't clearly marked and my beloved and I had to ask at least five people for directions, until we realised we could head straight to the entrance of the monument (I blame the head cold!). We opted to purchase an audio guide (something I highly recommend, along with pre-booking tickets) and climbed the stairs of the ancient amphitheatre.

Quirky fact courtesy of our audio tour:
At some point in Roman history, a beached whale washed up on a nearby stretch of coast, generating quite the local kerfuffle, followed by widespread histeria throughout the empire. In tribute to the event, a Colosseum show involving a giant papier-mâché whale replica was organised - quite a feat, I would imagine, in ancient times. However, presenting a life-size whale was clearly not enough to "wow" Roman audiences. Accordingly, the whale was filled with fifty live bears, who burst out of the papier-mâché beast's mouth upon its presentation to the audience. What the?!?  

The Colosseum and surrounding area is rife with ancient history and certainly kept me enthralled!

After a couple of hours on the go, my beloved and I selected a restaurant for lunch with an excellent view of the Colosseum (I know, I know, that's the first rule of travelling - never pick the restaurant with a view!) and had a surprisingly tasty, simple pasta lunch. Walking off our meal, we ambled past numerous ruins, enjoying the remarkable contrast between old and new in the city. Typically, we soon found ourselves face-to-face with a gelateria and...well...just couldn't say no!

Our afternoon involved a trip back to the hotel, followed by a visit to one of the small supermarkets located within Rome's Termini station to stock up on supplies for our early morning train trip. Without solid plans in place for our final night with our travel companions, we were lured into a complete tourist trap of a restaurant (silly me, always wooed by the promise of a rooftop garden!). The food was not altogether awful, but the excessive bread and service charges were quite uncalled for, as was our waiter's disgruntled response when he realised we weren't tipping him 10 and, after initially pulling out a  10 note for our change, placed it back into the cash register and threw down an abundance of silver onto the table. A subtle hint, perhaps? My (tacit) response: no tip, signore! Our last evening together was spent drinking cocktails and playing cards on our hotel's rooftop garden.

It was a real pity that my health wasn't the best during our time in Rome. While we managed to cram a fair bit into two days, I'm sure we could have made more of the experience if I had a bit more energy. I do hope to return to the city (and surrounds) in good health in the near future.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 47

Lucca - Rome

Our day commenced with the purchase of a few cornetto pastries to sustain us for the Lucca-Florence-Rome train trip. Once in Rome, we dropped our bags off at our hotel (located very close to the Roma Termini station, but otherwise unremarkable). Our first two stops in this historic city were the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon.

Both monuments were jam packed with tourists (something that typically irks me), but today this really didn't worry me - instead I was thrilled to be able to finally see the famed Baroque fountain, as well as the ancient Roman temple. Even though the structures hail from very different times in the city's heritage, both represent such distinct and iconic parts of Rome's history.

After taking in a couple of the sights of Rome, my beloved and I were hungry and settled on (you guessed it!) pizza - roquette for me (I figured if it was green I could claim it was a "healthy" meal!) and funghi and prosciutto for my beloved.

While scoffing down our pizza, we realised that we were not too far from the top-rated gelateria in Rome (according to Tripadvisor) - La Gelateria Frigidarium. In this blog post I'm going to be making two very big calls. Here's the first: my tiramisu and caramel ice-cream dipped in chocolate was the best ice-cream/gelato experience of my life. There, I said it! It may not look like much, but oh boy, was it delicious?!

After this spiritual experience, it was (perhaps somewhat ironically??) time to head to the Vatican. The Vatican museum was first on our agenda. It was incredibly crowded. In fact, I don't think I've ever witnessed human "traffic jams" of such volume in any public place . Nonetheless, I particularly enjoyed the Egyptian collection (complete with creepy unwrapped mummy!), as well as the Sistine Chapel - a must see. Here are some of the museum highlights:

Once we had made our way around the museum we plonked ourselves down at an outdoor table and enjoyed the surrounding gardens and sunshine with a refreshing drink. Five minutes into our little break, a particularly charming cat made its way towards us and, without hesitation, leapt onto my lap and started to purr deeply. He remained there for a good 15 minutes, during which time I decided to name him "Pope". It was so nice to have a cat on my lap after nearly seven weeks without a cuddle from our cat babies. Pope was such a character and I think he deserves a little photo love.

After our feline rendezvous, it was time for my beloved and I to explore St Peter's Basilica. Two words: mind blowing! I am not a person who has tremendous time for organised religion (now, before I receive abusive comments, I should also point out that I am respectful of everyone's personal beliefs, but don't want them pushed on me - 'live and let live' is how I see things), but I am a person who appreciates history...and the Basilica is overflowing with it. The scale of the place is incredible, as is the attention to detail. It is little wonder that the place took a good 120 years to build!

I'm not sure that this panoramic shot encapsulates the enormity of the Basilica, but I think it's as close as I'm going to get (please excuse the iPhone quality).

Here are some of my favourite shots taken inside the Basilica:

At the conclusion of our Vatican excursion, my beloved and I wandered back towards central Rome and, en route, enjoyed this rather spectacular view.

My italiophile friend who previously recommended some excellent eateries in Florence triumphed yet again with her suggestion of Pizzeria da Baffetto for dinner. She cautioned that we may have to stand in line for a table, but noted that the wait would be worth it. After approximately ten minutes, we were seated (a relatively short wait due to the early hour we were dining).

We ordered a couple of large beers and two pizzas. The first, Pizza Baffetto, was topped with tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, egg, sausage, green pepper, onion and artichoke; and the second was a more simple offering, topped only with tomato, mozzarella and thin slices of zucchini. Here's my second "big call" for this blog post: the pizza at Baffetto was (and still is) the best pizza I've ever consumed! In particular, our first pizza - pizza Baffetto - was a highlight...merely thinking about the ingredient combination atop the crispy base makes my mouth water!

We finished the evening with another gelato from La Gelateria Frigidarium (turns out that Frigidarium and Baffetto are located on the same street no more than 20 metres from each other...that's pretty exciting food synergy in my books!). This time dark chocolate with orange pieces was my selection. As expected, it was sensational!

What can I say? What a wonderful day for a lover of food - full of deep spiritual experiences of the gastronomic kind!