Head In The (Swiss) Clouds

3 Aug


Swiss cheese wine producer vines

Returning to the land of la dolce vita after a brief visit to neighbouring Switzerland, that coincided with the National Swiss Day celebrations, its easy to envisage the land of mountains and lakes as wonderful a place to live. 

It’s not just the moreish Swiss cusine, the crepes, the fondues, the raclette, that make it pleasant.

 Nor the fact they have the best of both worlds seasonally- fresh, crisp winters with snow and sun on the slopes (perfect for skiing) and warm summer days with a freshness that makes any sport activity pleasant. 

But what the Swiss have is something very unique in the modern world we live in.  

They have a pride for their country and their neighbour that is admirable. Their politeness just makes them more likeable.

And why shouldn’t they? As well as breathing the freshest air and drinking the cleanest water this globe has to offer, they don’t have a eurocrisis hanging over their heads and their neutral status has done them a world of favours. 

I am also particularly fond of  the non-human Swiss inhabitant- the red squirrel. 

When I lived in the UK, I went for years only seeing (american) gray squirrels, despite the reds being native to Britain.

Golf crans montana swiss nature mountains

On pointing this out to a lovely old Swiss lady, she told me a story that encapsulated everything I love about the place. 

Many years ago, when she first moved to Crans Montana, the baker from the village’s delicatessen arrived at her door and asked if she would like freshly baked pastries to be delivered early in the morning for breakfast (as they do only in Switzerland).

She thought it was a great idea and ordered 10 pain au chocolats/croissants to be left at her front door for each morning and arranged to pay him at the end of each month. 

On the first morning she was delighted to wake up and open the front door to warm, crumbling pastries perfect for the family to dip into their choloat chaud. 

But on the second morning she woke up to find 9 pastries in the delivery box. The next morning there were 7. 

And from then on, she woke up to varying numbers of pastries,- sometimes 8, sometimes 6- but never the 10 she had initially requested. 

At the end of the month, she went to pay the delicatessen, but never mentioned anything about the missing pastries. 

I asked her why and she replied that she didn’t want to be impolite or imply that he had done something wrong. 

“Maybe he didn’t understand what I had asked for and I wanted to keep our relationship on good terms.”

So, she kept waking up to her diminishing pastries.  

Then one evening, she decided to wake up extra early the following morning to get to the bottom of her bittersweet dilemma. 

The next morning, she waited until the baker had dropped them off and then she swung open the door.

And there, on her doorstep, was a group of red squirrels raiding the breakfast pastries and scampering up the pine trees, clutching her pain au chocolats and croissants in their little mouths. 

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Five Things

26 Jul

Tuscany…ah, Toscana!

Just the sound of it makes my entire body sigh and all my muscles relax. And I know I am not the only person who sees this region of Italy as a retreat for the mind..and the soul…and, of course, the palate…

Having spent the last week reclined in a beach chair in Capalbio with a glass of vino in hand, I thought I would bring you my best bits from the Maremma part of Tuscany.

Seaside beach italy lake Grosseto Burano Lake

Lago Di Burano.

Sometimes referred to as the Walt Disney Lake, this mass of water lies in a WWF protected area near Capalbio Scalo.

As well as being picture perfect, it  is also home to hundreds of animals. It seems the area’s pheasant population has found its utopia. The birds march around the area en mass without a double barrel insight. 

Italy bird life hunting grosseto

While driving back home near the lake one evening, more than 30 wild boars (the babies were so cute) ran in front of the car and into the reeds without batting an eyelid. We were left stalled and stunned – in a cloud of dust!

Italy tuscan markets

Terra  Etrusca

This little biological agriturismo (farm/shop/restaurant/hotel) is our first pit stop on arrival in Capalbio.

The little market shop is run by a lovely old Tuscan lady, the fruit and veg are always seasonal and fresh from the surrounding fields. Plus they do a wonderful organic red wine for 4 euro a bottle.

Grosseto Bio market capalbio

The restaurant is true to the agriturismo‘s belief : bringing you organic fare from farm to fork.

http://www.terraetrusca.it/it/

italy tuscan countryside

Summer daze.

There’s n0 better time to be in Tuscany than in the summer when you can see the fruit growing on the trees.

This may mean you’ll have locals wandering into your garden for a ‘chat’ and leaving with a bucket of your finest figs (especially when they discover your italian is shaking and you don’t realise what you’re agreeing to). 

Italy organic food

Freshly picked figs from the garden. 

italy tuscan coast seaside rome aperitivo spritz

The Spritz

Despite being a Venetian custom, there is nothing comparable to having a spritz on the beach after a hard day of catching the rays or swimming in the (very clean) sea.

eating seafood beach tuscany

La Selva. 

The place to have a plate of seafood and a glass of crisp, cold white wine. Before or after basking in the glorious Tuscan sun. 

Milano- O Mia Bela Madunina

16 Jul
Lomography milan photography italy

Photo: Lomography store, Milano

Milan has been my ‘second home’ for over 4 years.

During this time, I have been lucky enough to hang around with some very authentic Milanese paesani (you know who you are)- which has given my life in the city both a positive and a negative edge. 

Positive, because I now know some pretty cool places to go/ some pretty cool people to know/ I am now a great scooter partner – and I also know all the italian swear words AND when to use them!

Negative, because I have no idea where these places are or what they are called.

I have become a vessel that is transported around Milan’s hotspots like a sort of foreign toddler being led astray. 

I am totally incapable of  locating anything other than the house where I am staying and the Duomo.

So while R. has been working in Milan for the past  2 weeks, I decided to invest in a map of the city (not just any map… a 3D map, that’s right), and armed with a posse of italians, stake out some of my favourite places/things to do in Milan, so I can finally know what I am talking about and fulfill my role as a ‘real expat’.

1. See The Duomo

 The Duomo has been a huge dilema in the milanese part of my life.

Ladies take note: you will not be allowed to enter if you do not have trousers on or if any part of your shoulders are showing.italian military russian girl

I have been turned away countless times by the Italian Rambos on the door due to my inappropriate dress sense (though I was not dressed like the lady above).

My advice would be to take a wrap or cardigan in your bag.

After your trip inside the Cathedral, see if you can find the mistake on one of the Duomo’s main doors.

statue mistakes italy

2. Climb The Duomo

Though I don’t often see it recommended on travel sites, climbing up onto the roof of the iconic italian Cathedral is a must-do. 

The entrance is located to the left of the Duomo entrance and there is no dress code.  

It costs 7 euros to climb the stairs, but if that sounds a bit daunting, you can always pay the  12 euro option to take the lift. 

climbing the duomo

Once you reach the top, it is spectacular (especially in the summer), and you can see the gothic features in all their glory. 

architecture duomo roof italy

A path leads you around the roof through the arches, so you can take in the view of Milan from all sides. (I don’t think this would be allowed in the UK with all the health n’ safety laws)

roof of cathedral in italy  

3. Eat Pie & Drink Coffee

cakes tea iced coffee il forno d'Americano

I know what you are thinking. ‘How could you recommend an American coffee shop in Italy- the home of the espresso?!’ 

Here’s why. Every lunch time The California Bakery (via Largo near the Duomo) is packed out with Italian suits, donne-that-lunch and local students grabbing a New York style bagel or Club Sandwich. 

While, I prefer to lunch the italian way, I really recommend the establishment’s cakes, milkshakes and coffee as an afternoon treat. 

Their vast selection of cakes and pies are freshly baked in-house everyday.

They have a cute seating area in the back garden- and they serve brunch on a Sunday. Perfect.

PS. The iced coffee is amazing.

baked cheesecake milkshakes apple pie

http://www.californiabakery.it/

4. Ride An Old School Tram 

Milan’s tram operations started in 1876 and the city has the second biggest tram network after Turin.

Milano Italy public transport

Many of the old trams are still in operation around the centre and they are very easy to use to get around. 

Plus, rather than the metro, they provide you with an opportunity to view Milan as you travel. 

Having grown up in the middle of nowhere in Africa, taking the train or tube was not an everyday occurance for me- never-mind travelling on a tram. 

So, I am particularly fond of taking the old style trams (or standing and staring as they drive past). 

old fashioned opera house milan

5. Drink At Anny’s

Bar Anny in Milano is one of those bars that is retro without even trying to be retro. 

Aperitivo Milano panino best bar

Forget your *bling-bling* Armani and Prada bars, Anny’s is Milan’s aged rockstar- it’s had years of experience at being cool and now it just comes naturally (in a vintage kind of way). 

The story goes that it came to life in the 70’s, was then closed down for a period (its rehab years), before being opened up again, looking exactly as it did in the old days- just a little bit more scruffy and with a bit of an edge. 

It is the best place to have an aperitivo (it has to be a Negroni- Milan’s choice of drink) and a panino in the evening. 

Cocktails Milan happy hour

Enzo will look after you prefectly – though, a little heavy handed as is the traditional way. 

Your panino will be chosen for you if you show the smallest sign of having difficulty making a decision.

He’ll also keep your Negroni coming and all at a very decent price…what more could you ask for!

Aperitivo traditional bar Milan

Capri: The Island of Lemon Granita (& Taking Liberties)

7 Jul

Anacapri

When I first told R. the title of this post, he was not impressed. ‘ I take you to one of the most beautiful islands in the world and all you can think about is the lemon granita’. He had a point.

But then, this is not a post aimed to tell you how out-of-this-world Capri is. It’s a place you have to experience for yourself.

Yes, it is beautiful (though, I thought Anacapri centre was a little bit more charming) and, yes, it is breathtaking, but it is also very packed with tourists, just like you and me, which of course makes everything very, very expensive.

 The type of expensive that’s served with a smile. A nice white, glinty, I-know-I’m-taking-the-piss kind of smile (and often from a man your mum would call ‘slimy’)

Capri is not somewhere you go on a budget, and if you do, it will lose its charm pretty quickly. Along with its buddies- Cannes, St Tropez, Monte- Carlo…

And I learned from my visit that if you go to Capri it is a good idea to arm yourself with an italian. If you have one nearby (in the hall cupboard, in storage, wherever) make sure you to take them with you.

In fact, I’ve realised in the short period that I have lived in Italy, this could apply to the whole country.

Seriously, not a day goes by that I do not thank my lucky stars that I have R. to do all the talking while I stand there trying not to look ‘so British’.

And once again he came in handy, this time in Capri.

By day one, I was addicted to granita al limone. I had to have them all the time, which involves quite a bit of queueing at one of the cute little kiosks (like the one below) to ask for a cup of the lovely iced lemony stuff.

(Yes, unlike the rest of Italy, maybe because everyone is a tourist, they do queue in Capri) 

Anacapri

There was quite a line on this particular occasion and I sussed out that about 80% were Americans, the rest, British or other.

 Eventually, the american couple in front of us reached the counter, they ordered 2 cups of granita and the man told them ‘that will be  11.00 euro’.

And I went, WHAT!?!  Keep in mind these were 330ml cups of lemon ice.

I decided to dispatch R. to the front to ask (in italian) how much a cup costs. He asked and told me the man said 3 euros per cup.

“Right, then why is everyone in front of me paying 2.50 euros more.”

He asked the man, who in turn said that there were two prices.When R. probed as to why, he replied there were two sizes. 

“Oh well, I will go for the 3 euro one,” I told the italian ‘gentleman’ and he handed me my granita (with that smile). 

I soon discovered, on comparison, that there were no ‘two sizes’. Mine was exactly same the as the americans and the British couple behind me, who didn’t flinch at the 5.50 euro price tag after seeing my little commotion. 

However, it did appear to be two prices – one for the tourists and one for the italians( yes, even if you’re from the North).

Maybe this is the norm, considering an American on a train in Tuscany a week earlier had told me he had paid 16 euros for 2 ice-creams in central Florence. 

But hey, this is Capri…and you only live once, right?

So, in my opinion, if you are going to do it, REALLY do it. I mean, go all out – with an event/anniversary/mid-life crisis to blame it on.

But, however you decide to do it, be sure to try the lemon granita.

Rome Through Rainbow Tinted Glasses

28 Jun

Over the weekend, Rome joined most major cities around the world and held it’s annual gay pride parade.

Apparently this year’s event was nothing on the EuroPride march the city hosted last year, which saw 1 million people march through the italian capital.

But it was the first time I (with R in tow) attended an LGBT event and it was definitely an eye opener for both of us.

So, inspired by the Oreo rainbow cookie that is causing a storm across the world, I’ve decided to post some of my favourite photos of the day.

gay event roma pride 2012 LGBT parade

The theme for this year’s Roma Pride was VOGLIAMO TUTTO (we want everything)…

rome gay march parade gay angel

…and everything was on show. 

LGBT paradeAnti-pope outfit roma gay pride 2012

 For some, getting the message across was the most important part of the parade…

Rome pride 2012 roma italy

The sign reads: (left)It is everyone’s world..if you don’t like it.. get off at the next stop. (right) Where there is love, there is a home, where there is hate, there is the Vatican.

Italy europride

 

same sex marriage italy

 

Gay rights rome italy politician

…for others, it was all about getting themselves out there infront of the cameras.

LGBT parade rome italy gaydar

Gladiators Rome gay scene italy

italy transsexual carnival outfit

It has been an historic year so far for LGBT rights in Italy after the political party Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) announced in May that it would push for marriage equality- the first time a party has endorsed same-sex marriage in Italy.

Who knows, we may be seeing more of these in Rome very soon!

rome gay scene italy

La Dolce Sweeter

20 Jun

I am not a cake person.

You would think that living in the-land-of-the-cream-teas for 9 years would have made me lust for the spongey stuff. But it was not to be so (don’t judge me)!

That’s not to say I don’t harbour a sweet tooth…I just believe it hadn’t been unlocked until a trip to Paris which made me a life-long friend of the pâtisserie.

Ooooh,the pâtisserie! Land of the delicate macaroon, baked custard tart and everything with a posh raspberry ripple through it.

I had heard about the Paris ‘places’, saw the Paris ‘places’ and got the T-shirt about the Paris ‘places'(and a few extra kilos to go with it).

But, no-one told me about the Rome ‘places’…until I stumble across one.

Imagine, on your way to work everyday, you had the unfortunate luck to walk past this. 

coffee shop in Rome cake shop cakes fruit tarts

Marinari Roma patisserie fruit tart torta di nonna

Well, naturally, I soon started rewarding myself with a daily treat from my new discovery- the wonderful world of the italian pasticceria ‘Marinari’. 

fruit tart italy libya rome cake shop

Founded in 1950 by a Tuscan baker, Cav. Malvino Marinari, whose motto was ‘customer first’ (well, he gets my vote), the shop is now run by his daughter Amber, who sticks to her traditional roots. 

The cakes are too beautiful eat and ooze class, even the Barbie birthday version that had me reminiscing about the 90s- and my mum’s attempts (they were very good, of course!).

Rome italian baker birthday cake little girl

They also do the usual pick n’ mix-a la-pâtisserie, including sugared almonds and pignoli amaretti (amaretti biscuits covered in pine nuts). 

bakery in rome italy coffee shop

The lovely lady behind the counter will wrap your treats in a gold box with delicate ribbon and pink paper, so that they arrive home in perfect condition.

bakery in rome italian coffee shop

And, saving the sweetest news for last, they serve traditional (to-die-for) italian ice-cream in the gelateria next door – for dessert, of course. 

The shop is on Corso Trieste ( a 15-minute ride on the 80 express bus from outside the Rinascente on Via del Corso).  http://www.pasticceriamarinari.it

rome bakery patisserie marinari

Uncorking Rome’s Wine Festival

12 Jun

There is a well-known Latin proverb that goes “Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis“, which roughly translates to “Good wine gladdens a person’s heart”. 

What it fails to mention, though, is just how much more it gladdens a person’s heart when that wine is free! 

And not just a little dribble of a freebie to try to persuade you buy a bottle or two, but a full glass or two…or three..or four… 

Let me introduce the show of the moment, Rome’s annual wine festival (that deserves a thousand ‘Cheers!’) – Vinòforum.

Italian wines vinoforum città del gusto

Held at Gambero Rosso’s Città Del Gusto (City of Taste) along the banks of the Tiber River, Vinòforum runs for 16 days in June and each night hosts a different event such as a beer tasting or food pairing night.

With more than 500 companies, 2,500 labels for tasting and 6 hours  to try them all in (opening hours are 7pm to 1am), you will at first feel overwhelmed.

Citta del gusto rome

But, after being handed your wine glass and poured a little bubbly to get you started by a charming sommelier, you will soon get into the ‘swig’ of things… 

italian men sommelier vinoforum

As you can not buy any of wines that you try, there is a positive and negative side to these festivities.

The negative being that, in your tipsy state (to say the least), you will have to remember the names of your favourites and hunt them down in the real world. 

The positive, being that you can enjoy a glass  (and most of the sommeliers don’t hold back)of 50euro plus Chianti, have another, and then walk away grinning like a teenager who’s nicked his dad’s best bottle of whisky- but knowing you’ve gotten away with it. 

Another beauty of Vinòforum is that there is no sommelier snobbery. If, like me, you are an amateur when it comes to these matters (let’s just say, if it pours, I’ll drink it), a smile and a ‘whatever you recommend/what’s hots, what’s not’, does the job.

Italy wine festival in Rome

The beer tasting event was brewing (sorry, I had to)when I attended the show. Organised by Slow Food, it featured  40 beers from the award-winning  beer guide.

Some were ‘very interesting’, and it was generally agreed that one in particular called Martina, which had been fermented with pears, was a tad gorgonzola-y! 

However, the Quarta Runa, fermented with peaches, was particularly pleasant and definitely worth a try.

Slow beer guide 2012 third edition

Now, I know I said it was free at the beginning, this probably due to my inebriated state, but it does cost 20 euros to get into the Città del Gusto. 

But the price can- and should- be overlooked this time: it is an absolute bargain and a great experience. They also throw a jazz band into the equation that’ll have you ‘hopping and skipping’ as you ‘sipple and sample’. 

Città del gusto Vinòforum

In fact, I may just pop back before it ends, for as an anonymous man said a long time ago (he’d probably been to Rome’s Vinòforum) – “Life is too short to drink bad wine.”