A glass of Champagne

img_9688

Hautvillers

In late summer 2017, I had the honor to attend a friend’s wedding on the west coast of France, an hour away from Bordeaux city and right border the Medoc region. It came as a surprise to many of my friend as that was the first time I visited a vineyard. The time spent with friends, exploring the French culture, cuisine and especially the wine of Bordeaux was merry and certainly fulfilling.

I would share about my wonderful experience in Bordeaux in another more mellow note. Today, as another year draws to a close and comes the moment to raise a glass, waving goodbye to 2018 with cherish and reflection as well as opening the door to welcome 2019 with plans and hopes, I’d like to share my humble encounter in Champagne region this past summer. There are a few things this region is famous of, the most famous of all bears its name – Champagne.

I took the Euro Star train from London to Paris in late June and connected to the city of Reims, the biggest city in the region. The city is a holy place in France, whose cathedral winessed the cororation of many French emperors for over 8 centuries till the collapse of the monarchy. As I have been to many places in Europe and visited many catherals, this is the most beautiful one in my opinion. The cathedral stands high and grandeurin the city centre, drawing attention to its exquisite, expensive and sophisticated architecture and decoration. its bell tower and the long history that connected to the rise and fall of the mornachy. I picked a small airbnb right near one of the city bakery, Andre Boulanger Patisserie, where I bought a baguette and pastries every morning,  as well as Cul de Poule restaurant, where I dined at awe every evening.

 

 

Of course I tasted and drank way too much Champagne. The summer was bright, warm and breezy. The time stood still. I was enjoying my time.

My humble knowledge of champagne came mostly from my first cellar visit, the Veuve Cliquot, which I stepped foot in nerely an hour after arriving in Reims. It’s cold and beautiful inside, millions of bottles nesting next to each other, dozen of km of domed cellars all connected, hundred years of history in the making.

Champagne is simply sparkling wine, strictly coming from the Champagne region of France. Unlike other wine which is fermented and ages once in wood barrows, metal tanks or urns (the case of traditional wine from Georgia) before being bottles, Champagne wine goes through 2 fermentations blah blah until it fills our glasses of joy.

To my abundance of neglected memories, I remembered 2 names standing out in the history of champagne. The first is Dom Perignon, considered the inventor. Long before, sparkling wine was said to be “haunted” by evils, due to the fact that during the aging,  sometimes explosion of bottled happened. Dom Perignon lived in the abbey of Hautvillers, who tested out and finessed the technique of champagne making, including the underground aging to sustain the need to humidity and temperature. In the region of Champagne, there are no fewer than 200km of tunnels/cellar protecting millions and millions of bottle of champagne underground. The calcium carbonate rich soil give the ideal humidity for the aging and storage of wine.

 

Another name that tied to the history of Champagne is madame Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin, the extraordinary business woman, a young widow who overcame her grief at the age of 26 and grew her husband family’s small house of Champagne Cliquot-Muiron et fils (“Cliquot-Muiron and sons) into the second largest house of champagne in the world. Veuve means the widow in French and her name is kept in every single bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne – VCP. She invented the riddling board and started the export of vast quantity of champagne out of France, including sneaking out boats of champagne to Russia during a shiping blockage under Napoleon (who favoured house of Moet-Chandon). At the defeat of Napoleon, Russia was toasting Veuve Cliquot champagne.

Do you know how rose champagne was made in Champagne? Only here it’s allowed for mix red wine with champagne to create the jolly colour for this marketing hoax. Elsewhere, the colour is made from pressing process.

img_9692Aside from visiting the big houses and venturing into their massive system of cellars and history, I took a half day vineyard visit, tasting remarkable champagne from boutique producers and taking in the beauty of this land. One of the house we visited produced the limited edition champagne for Formula 1 – those big bottles that the F1 racers shook and wasted in their victorious moments. The trip took us, a Vietnamese, an American couple & an Australian couple to  the beginning of it all, Abbey d’Hautvillers where Dom Perignon lived, made wine and rested in peace. The place was so humble as compared to the luxury and cheerful image of the wine, as compared to the long Avenue of Champagne in Epernay, the capital of the regions where house of Moet-Chandon places its headquarter.

Truth to be told, most of the productions from the big house were exported to the world and people of France, especially people of Champagne, rarely buy those. “Well, why paying 50 euro a bottle while you can get 5 bottles for that much, equally good quality?”. Very true and very fair. I tasted from vintage of the big houses to a random bottle from supermarket and I couldn’t agree more.

Once you get a real Champagne glass, you are ensured the ultimate experience of bubbliness!

Well, let’s raise a glass!

Happy New Year to you all.

 

Love,

 

Kate

__________

img_9427

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luxembourg: Where Belgium, France and Germany meet

img_0134

View of Pfaffenthal District from top of the lift

I crossed the France-Luxembourg bordered in late June on one of the fast connecting train from Paris. I have always been curious about this country so I opted to fly back to London from here in order to spend a day in this country – the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. A little gem!

1.How Big? 

Luxembourg is a landlocked country, surrounded by 3 powerful neighbours Belgium, France and Germany. The country is only 2,586 squared km, among the smallest countries in the world, with its half-foreigner 600,000 population. 3.5 time bigger than Singapore and 10 time less populated than Singapore, the country is among the least populated. Most of people in Luxembourge live in its neighbour countries and commute in for works – think a big city with all the suburbs abroad!

2. How politically powerful?

Luxembourg is one of the 6 founding countries of the European union, among the 3 capitals of the EU and sit the European Courts of Justice. Over the course of its history, the country has seen, suffered and survived many diplomatic and warfare bullying despite its neutrality from the Prussia empire, the Netherlands, Belgian and French empires to Germany across World War 1 and 2. The Duchy of Luxembourg started and still headed the country from 15th century till nowadays and it’s indeed known respectfully for having its gay Prime Minister and his husband in the political scene.

3. How rich?

Very. Luxembourg ranked 2nd in the world on GDP per capita.

4. How pretty?

Again, very. I only visited Luxembourg City which is a little out of ordinary. I was amazed at the city famous fortification system. Literally the city was made carving out of rock, making it one of the most powerful fortress in Europe. The city was divided into Ville Haute (Upper City) inside the fortress and Ville Base (Lower city) outside the fortress waterway. Nowadays you can reach Ville Base on foot through a number of lifts, the most famous of all is the Pfaffenthal lift, a gorgeous public infrastructure. The masive glass lift car take you over 60m above the historical district of Pfaffenthal. Looking down is quite a thrill. I have a video of the ride on my instagram. In the past, I guess people has to go through some secret gate along it’s 23 km underground system.

Being so high up, carved basement is another fun feature of many old houses within Upper City. As I found my way around both upper and lower levels, I was amazed at how subtle the city has been able to syncronize the old and the new making though hundred year-old project part of the city commute system, like a little watch tower is now used as a free information centre to public (no guard at all) or the connecting way through small tower bridge take you to the base of the fortress. The city host some of the most prestigious museums and galleries in Europe as well.

5. How green/sustainable?

In a country where the GDP per capita reach over 100k USD a year (higher for the resident of Luxembourg city), anyone (residents or visitor) would pay only 25-50 Euro for a month of city public transportation depending on how many zones you cross. As a visitor, I pay 4 euro for the whole day. The price is typically 2-3 times in other European countries. And so everyone take buses and train! I noted on one of the bus that most of the buses are hybrid – run on both electric and diesels and it would switch to electric within the city centre boundary, to the smallest alley!

(*Update on 7 Dec 2018: from Summer 2019, all public transportation will be free in the whole country to even promote public transportation more in the government’s effort to reduce pollution and time waste on traffic! Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/world/europe/luxembourg-free-mass-transit.html)

City bike (Veloh), car sharing service (Carloh) are everywhere in the city. Even book shares are in place.

6. How is the food?

The food scene in Luxembourg certainly has the heavy French influence (that’s a very good choice as compared to the poor salty cuisine of Germany). I had lunch and dinner and my 3rd beuf tartare in a 4 day trip was fantastic.

7. Last but not least – How is the people?

People who lives in Luxembourg city seem rather calm and humble in my view. They are mostly quiet, elegant and very polite. I don’t see the flash of wealth anywhere. On my way back to the train station, I saw an interesting sight – along a main shopping street a Cartier store next to a random phone shop, the kind you would see in any China town. There is seemingly no difference treatment for luxury brands.

As a Vietnamese saying goes “Empty vessels make the most noise”.

The people of Luxembourg, with their strong full of dignity history, their wealth and their graceful way of live are truly charming.

Love,

Kate

 

 

Một thoáng Zurich

img_1073

Tôi đến thăm Zurich như một cái duyên.

Tôi cũng mong có một lúc đến thăm đất nước đồng hồ và những nhà băng lâu đời nhưng vẫn chưa thực hiện được, một là vì đắt đỏ quá, hai là vì người Thuỵ Sĩ khá khô khan!

Hè này ở Châu Âu, tôi chỉ dự định đi thăm vợ chồng cô bạn thân ở Stuttgart thôi. Lần trước khi thăm Stuttguart vào mùa giáng sinh năm 2014, ba đứa long dong lái xe vòng vèo thăm lâu đài Người đẹp và Quái Vật Neuschwanstein và leo lên tận khu nghỉ trên núi Zugspitze để trượt tuyết. Sau chuyến đi, tôi bây ngay sang Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ tiếp tục kì nghỉ đông, còn hai bạn tôi ở nhà hẳn 2 ngày nghỉ mệt. “Bình thường mùa đông bọn chị chả làm gì mấy. Có em ở đây bận từ sáng đến tối mệt lừ ý”.

Lần này nghe tôi nói ghé thăm gia đình, bạn tôi rủ luôn “này, thế chủ nhật mình lái xe đi Zurich!”. Hơi tá hoả vì sau 4 năm mức năng lượng chạy nhảy cũng đã sụt giảm cộng với việc tôi cũng muốn giữ sức cho chuyến đi 6 tuần lần này.

Sau 2 ngày nghỉ ngơi cưỡi ngưạ xem hoa ở stuttgart (có bao gồm việc vào cửa hàng số 1 của Porsche hỏi mua xe ô tô :D), 3 chúng tôi và cậu con trai 2 tuổi của bạn tôi lên đường cưỡi ngựa sặt sang Zurich ngắm núi.

Từ Stuttgart tới biên giới Đức- Thuỵ Sĩ đi ô tô mất tầm 2 tiếng nếu giao thông thuận lợi và thêm khoảng 1 tiếng đề vào đến trung tâm Zurich. Chồng bạn tôi có nói cuối tuần rất nhiều người thuỵ sĩ qua Đức đi siêu thị vì mọi thứ đều rẻ hơn rất nhiều. Thuỵ Sĩ hiện tại vẫn dùng đồng Franc Thuỵ Si có mệnh giá bằng đồng dollar Mỹ. 3 đứa tôi dở khóc dở cười vì các toilet công cộng đều cần xu franc trong khi không ai lường trước được “nhu cầu” thiết yếu này trên đường đi.

Trước khi vào thành phố tôi dừng ở Marche ăn trưa. Đây là một chuối nhà hàng đồ ăn Thuỵ Sĩ có mặt khắp thế giới và là chỗ mà tôi và cô bạn thân mê mệt ở Singapore vì có món tủ rosti ăn kèm phô mai kem và cá hồi hun khói. Rosti là một loại bánh pancake thuỵ sĩ làm bằng khoai tây thái sợi và rán dầu. Rất đơn giản và rất nghiền!

Mùa hè năm nay tôi đã đến Luxembourg, đất nước bé nhỏ có GDP theo đầu người cao thứ 2 trên thế giới và đã mở mắt với cách sống đơn giản nhẹ nhàng của người dân nơi đây. Thuỵ Sĩ, ngoài việc nằm trong top các quốc gia giàu nhất thế giới, trong nhiều năm cũng đứng hàng top 5-10 các quốc gia hạnh phúc nhất thế giới theo bào cáo thường niên của UN. Và Zurich, theo nhiều báo cáo là thành phố có chất lượng sống tốt nhất hành tinh! Tôi cũng có bạn sống ở THuỵ Sĩ, cả người Việt và người nước ngoài và tất cả đều rất thích cuộc sống ở đây. Tất nhiên ở các quốc gia có thu nhập trung bình cao mức giá cũng cao theo (Zurich cũng đứng top 10 luôn), nhưng phong cách sống và cách nhìn nhận cuộc sống của họ thì có rất nhiều điều để học hỏi.

img_1043

Chúng tôi dừng xe ở một ngôi làng lưng chừng đồi theo đường lên Uetliberg, điểm cao nhất của Zurich rồi đi bộ tầm 4-5 cây số lên dốc. Cậu con trai bạn tôi ngủ ngon lành trong xe đẩy. Mùa tháng 7 là cuối mùa cherry và còn khoảng 1 tháng thì đến mùa thu hoạch táo và lê. Ngôi làng với những căn nhà lớn với khung cảnh không có gì để chê, lác đác vài khu vườn táo và lê khá lớn. Hai bên đường phúc bồn tử dại bắt đầu chín. Tôi và cô bạn cũng hái được mấy nắm nho nhỏ. Sau khoảng 1 tiếng rưỡi chúng tôi cũng lên đến đỉnh và tự thưởng cho mình mỗi đứa một chai bia và cu cậu một cây kem to. Từ điểm dừng chân 871m trên mực nước biển, cả thành phố và toàn bô hồ Zurich thu vào tầm mắt. Giữa ngày hè trời quang mây soi xuống lòng hồ trên núi và tôi có thể nhìn thấy cả những đuôi sóng từ những con thuyền buồm! Giờ mới hiểu tại sao người Châu Âu thán phục vẻ đẹp của đất nước Thuỵ Sĩ đến vậy.

Sau đó chúng tôi đi chuyến tàu từ đồi Uetliberg xuống trung tâm thành phố. Tại đây, nơi cất giữ và bảo mật một khối lượng của cải khổng lồ cho các tài phiệt, chính trị gia, hoàng gia trên toà thế giới, Thuỵ Sĩ giữ vị trí trung lập về chính trị và đã tránh được những làn bom đạn của thế chiến thứ nhất và thứ 2. Thành phố Zurich như tôi thấy đã có bộ mặt đô thị phồn hoa như vậy từ nhiều thế kỷ trước bên dòng sông Linmat. Đi dọc bờ sông tôi thấy rất nhiều bạn trẻ bơi trên sông. Ở độ cao trên 400m, dù giữa đinh điểm mùa hè, nước sông chỉ nhỉnh hơn 20*C, lạnh!

Sông linmat đưa nước ra Hồ Zurich, tên tiếng Đức là Zurichsee. Cái tên làm tôi nghĩ phải gọi là biển hồ mới đúng vì hồ rất rộng, trong xanh và có vô vàn tàu bè. Chúng tôi đi dọc xuống khu công viên bên hồ. Cuối tuần công viên đông đúc, người lớn trẻ em tất cả đều ra công viên tắm nắng, nướng bbq, đạp xe, đi bơi. Tôi rất ấn tượng với một vài khu bể bơi thiên nhiên trên Hồ Zurich – một khu ngày cửa sông Linmat đổ ra hồ với kiến trúc Ba Tư với hồ bơi quây ở giữa và một khu ngay trên mặt hồ. Đây có lẽ là bể bơi lớn nhất và duy nhất không cần thay nước!

Điều thú vị nữa là những chiếc xe đạp vịt kiểu Thuỵ Sĩ – xe đạp vịt thường gắn thêm cầu trượt hoặc sunbed để mọi người có thể tắm nắng hoặc trượt xuống bơi luôn. Không như mấy cỗ xe đạp vịt ở hồ Tây nhà mình :). Thật tiếc vì không ai trong chúng tôi mang theo đồ bơi, chỉ có cu cậu 3 tuỏi là được chơi thoả thích ở một dài phun nước gần đó.

Giữa không gian cổ kính của thành phố này có một điều tôi chú ý – thành phố có rất nhiều người trẻ tuổi! Ngoài việc là trung tâm tài chính, Zurich cung tập trung nhiều viện nghiên cứu và trường đại học lớn, thu hut một luồng cư dân trẻ đến đây. Ai ai nhìn cũng rất hạnh phúc.

Chiều buông xuống một bầu trời rực lửa cũng là lúc chúng tôi nói lời chia tay với thành phố xinh đẹp này.

Hẹn gặp lại Zurich!

Yêu,

Kate

img_8205

Inside a secret garden in Florence

img_1553

The morning after I arrived in Florence, I ran down Porta Romana for my morning espresso at Bar d’Angelo and then on to Italia Power Yoga for my DIY yoga retreat week (meaningly 2-3 classes a week, scattered around my eating, reading and relaxing time in the city). I pulled myself to a halt as I passed number 144, via dei Serragli. The drive way is of grande size, lined with big beautiful trees on both side. The name on the small door was written in perfect illuminati style – Giardino Torrigiani (Torrigini Garden). I have not heard of it in any travel sites, especially when in Oltrarno, Bogoli Garden took the crown jewel.

After blissful yoga, I went home and started my digging. Do you know Giardino Torrigiani is Europe largest private garden? 17 acres of lush English style garden is solely own and managed by the Torrigiani family since 16 century. The catch to visit it – an invitation from of the 2 owners who would then accompany you around. That’s what it said on the website.

I went on to send a nice admiring email to the property hoping to arrange a visit within my time in the city. And so I waited. 10 hour later, the reply came with details of the visit which worked really well. They typically hosting a party of minimum 4 people but lucky me, Mr Torrigiani agreed to host myself and 2 other fellow traveller, on Thursday afternoon, at 5.30pm. Great time to finish with an aperitif afterwards.

The family has owned this garden all along and it was near the very first fortification of the city, built by Cosimo I de Medici in early 16 century to defend the city from Siena’s attack.. I did recommend anyone who want to visit Italy to read a bit about the Medici family – fascinating bit of history! In side the garden now stay 3 residence – one of the Vieri, one of his sister and the other of his cousin, making it 2 branches of the family that own the garden together – the Torrigiani Malaspina and Torrigiani di Santa Cristina.

As Vieri shared, the name Torrigiarni meant “the man at the tower”. Pietro Torrigiani inheritted the small botanical garden in 18 century from his mother’s brother, Cardinal Torrigiani,  as well as the Torrigiani name.  He started acquiring the neighbouring lands to build up from the famous botanical garden. Within his property he built a 3 tier tower (square, hexagon and cylinder shapes) for his astronomical observation.

The garden boasts some wonderful architecture with statues, artificial river, bridges, arch, grotto, temple,  tower, etc. The botanical collection ranges from the Far East to the Americas. This used to be a famous botanical garden of Italy due to its owner’s passion for plants. Till now, Vieri and his son still provide many plants for the city from their own plant nursery and greenhouse within the garden. They also host events at their wonderful home.

After the long walk, Vieri invited us in for some refreshing white wine, a perfect end for a hot summer afternoon.

I wish the Torrigiani many good years ahead to maintain this wonderful oasis inside wall of Florence.

Maybe next time you are in Florence, take a chance to visit!

Love,

Kate

 

 

 

 

Capri out of hour

I heard of Capri. I wanted to visit Capri. I knew it would be expensive as everyone seemed to pour into this tiny little island off the gulf of Sorrento. It is the crown jewelry  of the Tyrrhenian sea.

There are 2 sides – Capri and Anacapri. Capri, closer to Sorrento, is the port, with many restaurants, hotels on top of hotels, boutiques inside boutiques. It’s the land of 15 euro pizza and overpriced pasta. Anacapri is the sister village, only 20′ on bus from Capri yet hold some of the island main attractions – mount Solaro and its famously scary chairlift , Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), Villa San Michelle and a few more. I opted to stay in Anacapri to soothe my funemployment pocket.

So at first I booked in one of the cheapest airbnb but has great view and a pool in Anacapri. Then I decided against it to spend more time in Almafi Coast. Then I was convinced by Isabella to just go there even to stay only 1 night and make some nice pretty sandals there. Using up my hotels.com award, I managed to get a hotel in Anacapri just the day before getting to Capri.  The ferry took me from Ischia to Capri port in less than an hour, where the hotel manager greeted me at gate 21 in a tiny van. There were another English lady on solo trip and a young couple. As we squeezed our way out of the packed marina, we started climbing up the mountain road between the 2 villages. I was relieved I did not plan to ride a scooter here. I would freak! The driver skillfully took us through the smallest alley that somehow still fit the car and arrived at Hotel Il Girasole (which means Sunflower).

The hotel is a little run down, 1980 styles, yet it has a pool and a large veranda with impeccable views of the ocean and Ischia island. That’s a nice surprise! I asked the hotel manager about a nearby restaurant called Da Gelsomina and got his approval. He also offered to help me arrange for the pick up service. Hospitality at its grandeur!

After arranging my little things and taking many good photos of the view, I headed down to the main square for a walk and some  late lunch. Anacapri around 12-2pm is nice and quiet as all the day-trippers are now flocking down Grotto Azzurra to catch the best time of the light. There were an ongoing Pizza festival that weekend I learnt as I saw random colorful pizza ovens were set up on the street. In front of the big cathedral, a small stage was being prepared for the yearly outdoor concert. A few people sat down for the rehearsal performance. The streets are small and clean and crammed with restaurants, bars and boutiques. Handmade leather sandals, linen fashions, ceramics, Italian condiments, lemon and all its products – to name a few. I found Antonia Viva shop as from Isabella’s recommendation. In total honesty, I was not crazy about the all complicated dedicated strappy look of the sandals here – I had become way too practical and minimalist in my attire for the last 2 years. I tried them on and made my final no as the soles were so stiff and slippery. Really just for show sandals.  I settled at a small cafe with a humble 4 star on Google review and order just a seafood pasta. I really wanted to save myself for dinner (I did had a massive dinner at Ischia’s Nano Cantino the night before and still stuffed!). Here even in the cheaper side of the island, you still expect to pay 25 euro for a very average lunch.

The island was baked under the sun. 39*C is not my forte. A lot of A/C and some swimming later, I sat on the porch watching out to the sunset, the best I had ever seen. The sun was glowing like a fireball falling down casting its dark shadow on the calm sea. Far away is the symmetrical cone shape of Ischia. The sky changed its coat from blue to orange to red to mulberry. Everything was still, so still at that moment, wondering what an incredible chore that universe had done. Even my mind was calm.

At 8.30, a tiny van from Da Gelsomina picked me up and climbed up the hill. In the car there were 2 more ladies from the accent of whom I knew they were American. The restaurant lied on the hill top, even higher than hotel Il Girasole with its outdoor pool and al fresco dining room. As I waited to be seated, the host come and took a couple, then the 2 ladies BEHIND me. I looked at him and said politely “Excuse me, would you ask if I need a table please?”. He looked at me in dismay like the first time in his life he was asked to wait on a customer. “Only you?”. I didn’t say anything. The 2 blonde yelled “Oh you can sit with us if you want”. I turned around eyes in a bullet shape “Thank you, but no thank you”.

Then I was seated in a corner of the restaurant, the darkest corner where mosquitoes were await for their Asian dinner. And I seated. I finished 2 glasses of wine and I was still seated, the idiot waiter was still busy serving the blonde. After much of a hassle, I wandered to the fish tank, counting fish to take attention from the CHEF. Then finally I was served. Food was delicious and expensive (very) and I shall not return.

The next day I aimed to explore the Capri side in the early morning before the 10am mark of day-tripper arrival. Taking a small local bus to the other side, at some point, i thought i was thrown out to the seas and at another point, i thought we had crashed a scooter to the rock! From the bus station I started walking toward Faraglioni passing many fancy boutiques. I wondered what a boring holiday it would be – trapped in a beautiful and expensive island with very limited beach time, tiny hotels, drink limoncello, and do nothing but shop at Versace, Prada, Misoni, etc.

 

The rain started as i reached the beach club down the cliff, stormy to be true. I looked out to the sea to all those tiny dingy boat and it scared the s*** out of me. I have always been scared of open water, especially choppy open water.

On the way back to the main square to visit Via Krupp, I heard a shiny voice singing O Sole Mio – it’s the lemonade seller. Her Granitta di Lemone is the most expensive  as well as the most disgusting in town. I forked out 3 euro just to hear her sing. And guess who else? Everyone.

The famous Via Krupp was one of the most beautiful road in the world zigzaging from the cliff down the water toward Marino Picolo. The view from the top down the silk like road to the turquoise water is very charming. I was rather disappointed the Via Krupp was no longer accessible and will never be completed due to  falling rocks. It would have been amazing to walk all the way to Marina Picolo listening to the ocean waves.  And you paid a fine 5 euro just to get in the tiny Augustus garden to look at the walkway.

By the time I left Augustus garden it’s around noon and the town is so so crowded. I wandered around checked out a few restaurant and get into one with many celebrity review. 25 euro later, I had a pizza and a glass of wine. Pick up a pretty leather sandal (not strappy!) on my way back to the bus stop, i squeezed myself in a full of teenagers ride back to anacapri, ready for a good nap. Should i go to the blue grotto? Should I stayed in this heat for an hour and then pay silly money to get in a cave? Lucky me, as the sea was rough, the cave was closed that day. A perfect afternoon to chill on the porch!

On my last day in Capri, I decided to take the famous chairlift to mount Solaro instead of 2 hour hiking up. It’s scary as f***. just a chair, with a handle across your front, and off you go, all airy up the mountain. You can walk around and take in the entire island in your eyes. So so beautiful! This is definitely the best 11 euro I had spent on the island.

My verdict – if you have money to splash, go to Capri and stay a few night. The island is way better at night, before 10 and after 5.30pm as only the true holiday makers are left behind. Calmer and quieter.

 

 

 

 

When in Rome, eat like the Romans

Let’s talk about how Italian eat.

img_2070As I observed, Italian did not seem to think “Breakfast is the most important meal” of the day. It’s normal to skip breakfast (Colazione)  and only have a quick caffe (simply espresso). Having an espresso at a bar in Italy took less than 5 minutes. Order, coffee out, drink and pay. The coffee is not scorching hot and an Italian would just down a whole espresso right when it touches his/her hands. When they have the chance, it’s still rather a quick affair. Simple caffe or milky drink (cappuccino, latte, macchiato) and some pastries. In my post “Forgetting the checklist in Italy”, I noted my wonderful experience at those little bars, where you could brush shoulder with the locals over a a an espresso, breakfast or had some wine after work. It’s a social place, not a drinking place. In fact I opine it’s all go down to socialization for Italians.

Italian also have meranda (afternoon snack) like kids in all school. They eat meranda similar to breakfast.

Then we have Pranzo (Lunch) and Cena (Dinner), the main meals. First you have il primo (first course), typically involving carb (rice, pasta). Then you have your Il secondi (the main course), with meat or fish and a side dish (“contorno” – typically salad – this can be a a separate dish as well). Then you can choose to have dolce (dessert). Then absolutely an espresso to finish. Wine is optional too. This is a normal meal structure.

In a more formal way, you will have Aperitivo (light appetizer) and Antipasto (heavier appetizer) before Il primo and also Insalata (salad, can be skipped if contorno is a salad) and Fromaggi e Frutta (cheese and fruit – easily skipped) after il secondi and prior to dessert and caffe. . Aperitivo is some simple stuff like olives, sauces, cheese, nuts, tiny little quiche. Antipasto is my favourite – it has antipasti! Prosciutto, salami, ham, charcuterie, cheese, bread-base dish (think Bruscheta – which pronounce brus-ket-ta not brus-Shet-a), vegie, salmon or prawn. I like this so much that so often I fill up myself with this. All these would end with a digestivo (grappa, limoncello, etc) to ease your digestion of  an absolute feast!

Pranzo is seen as the most important meals of the day for Italian. These days, it often comes down to pizza and panini with the young due to the work hours. Talking of pizza, you eat a pizza freshly made at a pizzeria, full stop. Only a few restaurants offer pizzas. A fancy pizzeria in Florence cost you 10-12euro each. A top pizzeria in Salerno cost you 4-5 euro (the southern region of Italy is poorer than the north, hence the price). An average pizza in Capri would cost you 15-20 euro. A slide of pizza can cost as little as 50 cents. If you have the whole pizza, you eat with fork and knife and you can excuse that and use hands with a slide of pizza.

Do you know pizza is NOT originally from Italy? The flat bread was brought first to Napoli (a main port) by Greek merchants. The locals , mostly poor workers, then added tomato sauce on top. Gradually, more delicacies are added and the dishes become popular in all classes!

So that’s how you eat in Italy, in theory. I really don’t understand how Italian and eat all that and still look so doped! during my few weeks in Italy, as i must have dessert (such sweet tooth!), I normally have either il primo or il secondi. When I can resist to order both, I would skip the next meal. In fact, toward the last week in Capri and Salerno, I have dinner every other day!

So how do Italian eat at home? If you have guests, all hells break loose! At my airbnb experience in San Miniato, we started with champagne (to celebrate a newly wed couple), aperitivo, MANY antipasti (a few dishes), pasta, 2 desserts, endless wine and limoncello! In a normal day, as Gabriele showed me, just simple pasta would do for dinner.

And at last, Italian are very proud of their seasons local products. Cinque Terre for the pesto, San Miniato for white truffle, campania for lemons, Tuscany for its wine and wild boar, Napoli for pizza, Ischia for rabbits and biancoella, Bologna for bolognese sauce, Capri for caprese (both salad and pasta!) and the list go on. Everywhere you find incredible olive oil, tomatoes and GELATO!

There, that’s how Italian eat. Remember when in Rome, act like the Romans.

Love,

Kate

 

 

 

Ischia, as reality sinked in

img_2951

Ischia in sunset from Capri

Talking about islands in Italy, the first name that comes up would be Capri, the second being Sicily. The former is famous for its beautiful turquoise sea and the latter for its incredible cuisines and endless story of the mafia world. I’d save Sicily for a long trip next time.

Little did I know about the Tyrrhenian sea and only after a quick google search, I found out besides the lux and fabulous Capri which is near the gulf of Sorrento, there are also Ischia and Procida which sit north-west of Capri, closer to Napoli. I know Capri is for the kind of luxury experience and a “must do” day trip for many visitor to the south of Italy. The island is known to be flocked with dozen of thousand visitors everyday from 9.30am till 5pm, not to mention the inflated cost for everything. This turned me off. I’m on my sabbatical and wanted somewhere relaxed, local, fewer people. I found a few article on Ischia, a volcanic island with nice beaches, some thermal beach and a not so crazy road for scooter ride. I made up my mind and made some arrangement to visit this unpolished pearl of the Tyrrhenian.

I booked an airbnb in Casamicciola, one of the 2 ports of the islands, with a hill-top location, pool & ocean view for 60 Euro a night, one of the top options. I’m so very pleased when I got the approval from my Firenze host Gabriele as well as Francesco and Isabella (who also convinced me to still visit the “magical Capri”). 3 trendy Italian, it must be good!

As I got off the ferry from Napoli after a long day of traveling from Florence including lugging my suitcase from Napoli Centrale to the ferry terminal in the 39*C heatwave as the city metro went on strike, I saw clear water right my the marina and a sheepish town in my view. At the marina grande piazza, there are a few restaurants and bars, some convenient shops, a few people sitting at the park benches, chatting. after 30′ I found the house, at the top of a very steep slope, outlooking to the port. I instantly went for a swim and dozed off on the sun-bed for a large part of the afternoon. Julio woke me up around 4.30pm to say hi and let me know stuff around the house. I envied his living quarter on the top floor, open veranda with an unblocked view.

I was in Ischia at the midst of July, right during the World Cup final . The day i arrived was the boring match between England and Belgium. I had been great support for England team till their odd performance at semi-final. They could not break the circle! There wasn’t much action on the island for this match, either. I had a sundowner down the piazza and then head east toward the end of  Casamicciola, passing a local beach club and many souvenir shop, up the hill to find a restaurant called Le Stufe, known for its view. Hadn’t I been eaten up by mosquitos, I would have loved it more. A kind French couple loaned me their spray, bless them! The fish and desert were delicious, so was the local wine. I watched the sun go down and shut its door to the island. Under this heat wave, the sky were cloudless, turning from a whitish blue to a fierce orange-red on top of mulberry blue and it got darker and darker by the minutes. The night went down quickly in this part of the world and everywhere you see a clear deep blue colour, which of the sky overlapped the ocean. The light came back from the ships or the stars I wouldn’t know. 

I slept soundly that night.

The next day was spent rather chilled with a short walk around Casamicciola, a hideout in an A/c restaurant, some planning, lots of pool time and then the World Cup Final – French vs Croatia. I shared a table with some Swiss people, next to some Croatia people, cheering for both teams. the atmosphere was calm and friendly, a degree from the crazy crowd I joined in Florence for England vs Croatia match. I did some digging that day with google map and head to Nando Cantino for dinner. “A water hole restaurant with only 5 tables but serve some of the best Italian food” – said some reviewer. Nando’s wife was kind enough of offer me a table that would be free for an hour and a half. Food was delicious. Local Pino Grigio was refreshing. Service was spectacular and honest. At the end of my meal, I booked a table for the next day.

Initially I wanted to do some hiking in the island. The longest route took me to one of the view-point took like 8 hours return. Judging the killing heat wave from the day before, I decided to get a scooter! I could easy do the whole island with a few stop in a day. The next day started with a slight panic as the scooter shop down the marina ran out of scooters. It’s 8.30am, opening time! I really didn’t want to sit by the pool for the whole day. Lucky me Julio came to the rescue and guided me toward the uphill square – “I think there is a shop there”. I climbed my way up hill, found the life savior shop and finally set off for the day at past 10, counter-clockwise from the marina following SP270 route.  I hadn’t rode a scooter for a while and the hilly road scared me a little. I stopped a million time to check on the direction for the first 10km, which irritated myself so badly. looking back now I was surprised on how “scared” I was. 5 years ago I took a scooter and go around Kos island in fairly bad wind conditions around some edgy cliff without any worry. What happened to me? Age? Insecurity? Mental exhaustion? I still don’t know. I do know for a large part of this year, I had been very doubtful of myself.

img_2487

walking down to Via Sorgeto

I stopped at a local beach just pass Florio to beat the late morning heat. The water was so pleasant – cool, clear,  salty and full of pebbles. I love pebble beach. No sand, no sand! The beach scattered with local and tourists lazily swimming, sunbathing. I found a spot and dived in. With my wet butt and sticky salty body, I gathered my stuff and continue to Panza to check out Ischia Via Sorgeto, where there was a natural thermal bath, avoiding to pay premium at some of the fancy thermal spa. I wasn’t disappointed. After quite a ride and climbed down many many stairs, I reached the bottom, hooked my bag on a fence like the local did and jumped in one of those natural pebble bathtub. The hot stream coming out from the mountain and was met with the cool wave from the ocean. At a corner I could feel the gentle warmth of the water.  It’s one of the popular spot in Ischia and in this weather, the small bay flocked with people. Old people were soaking and the young and happening were swimming & sunbathing. I moved my location gradually toward the young and happening for a good swim before heading up the only bar here for quick lunch. There I met the couple from Rome I met at Nando’s the night before. I felt like we were in an escape room! The rest of the afternoon I raced on the SP270, passing Punta Saint Angelo and end at Ischia, the main port, having a cappuccino looking up to Castello Aragonese d’Ischia. It’s 4pm and I’m long for some air-conditioning! After the dreadful winter in New York, this Italy summer was too hot for me. I quickly retreated to my room, icy cold shower and dozed off till sunset. That night, I thought I had the best meal in Italy ever. And I ate rabbit (a local special) for the first time. My my!

At this point, I was a month and a half into my career break and a week into my 4 week trip in Europe. The last year had been a roller coaster – moved to New York, started from ground 0 with work there, started from almost ground 0 with social life there, nurtured a distance relationship, took care of an ill relative, my mum got really sick. For the first time I said I wanted to move home.  My bf said for the many years he knew me, this was the first time I had ever said this. I had hit a rock then and learnt my lesson- setting up at a new place at the point of your life when you wanted to settle down wasn’t a breeze. It took tenacity. It took faith. I knew my “battery” wasn’t charging very well for a while. I knew I wasn’t moving to New York all excitedly (which I thought I would as finally after 5 years, I realized my relocation desire). Both tenacity and faith were bring used without proper charging. Ironically, I took a leap of faith (all the remaining) to go on this journey hoping to give my mind a proper rest to recreate some thinking energy in me. I wanted to be able to accept myself as I was to be honest. As reality sinked in,  I was still not 100% convinced with my decision to quit my job in New York, drop everything and take a break.  But I had no way back. So I kept on going with my choice, with a little faith.

img_2396

pool time