[VENICE] HOW TO EAT AND DRINK LIKE A LOCAL IN…

Couple of days back, I chanced upon this interesting site that arranges professional gourmet food tours in Italy. The foodie in me was jumping for joy! I wish I had done more research before my trip to Venice (2014), which led to sub-par pastas and touristy rip-offs (although you never go wrong with seafood risottos). Venice is a perfect locale for sightseeing, but at the same time the hustling-bustling city is bound to overwhelm you unless you come prepared with a solid list of where to go and what to do. Loads of pizzerias and pasta houses would lure unsuspecting tourists into their midst and serve up mediocre cuisines, tricking you into believing that this is the best you can get in Venice.

There’s this Italian saying, “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco.” – literally translated as “not all donuts come with a hole”, metaphorically alluding to things not always turning out as we expected. I’d projected all Italian restaurants to be fantastico. Truth is, locals have got way higher expectations than the average tourist, so it turns out you can actually hire a tourguide to bring you around for the best cuisines! Next time round probably I’ll be engaging tours – what better way to pamper your belly than Emilia Delizia’s filtered list of delis, chosen through personal samplings from the native Italians themselves. Way too cool!

Where: Emilia Delizia

Who: Experts in food and wine travel in Parma, Modena and Bologna

What: Holiday planning to various Italian destinations in your native language (Russian, English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, German, you name it)

What I love: Cicchetti Crawl
The same question popping up in your head right now was in my own, the first time I read about cicchetti. What’s that?

Well essentially they are snacks, rather like Spanish tapas, served in wine bars and taverns. According to Emilia Delizia, a cicchetti adventure should begin at bacari (wine bars) or osteria, both of which serve such simple, traditional snack foods: chunks of salami, pieces of cheese, fried olives and fried seafoods. However modern cicchetti can be much more elaborate, and can even be dinners in miniature. Also what better way to sample the best local wines than to get locals to drink them with you! The Italian vocabulary for wines is amazing: did you know, ombra are small glasses of wine (about the size of a double shot), and also nicknamed ‘shade’ after wine sellers in the Piazza San Marco, who kept in the shade to keep the wine cool and fresh. I remember having an aperitivo (a pre-dinner drink to whet my appetite) during my trip, and was awed by the wine selection. Due to our language disparity, unfortunately, the Italian wine connoisseur could not express what was in the aperitivo – I think it had something to do with sparkling wine and bitters. Which is why a food tour would be extremely helpful, and could save you a lot of trial and errors in the Venetian food-maze.

I should probably warn you not to read Emilia Delizia on an empy stomach…I got so hungry after reading their gourmet descriptions. I needed no further proof that these guys know their stuff. Popular cichettis include “tidbits served on toast (crostini) or on squares of savory grilled polenta”, and “squid ink toast with or without curried shrimp”, and “tramezzini (little triangular sandwiches) made from special, soft white bread, stuffed with a delectable variety of fillings including ham, olives, cheese or tuna”. Tramezzini. What a mouthful.

Where To Go: Rialto Fish Market
The best seafood based bacari and osteria are in San Polo, where they serve “swordfish croissant and scallops served in the shell – all served in a buffet style” and “hearty plates of polpette (meatballs) served with an aioli sauce, topped with truffles, cheese and mushrooms”. Honestly, I never knew these existed till I read this off E.D.!

Venice, I’ll be back for you with a hearty appetite!

P.S. All pictures are my own, circa 2013

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] A NIGHT AT THE VATICAN

Probably the only time you can catch the night scene outside St Peter’s Square is if you spend the night at Vatican City, or if you’re reading this as I’m about to show you a couple of my night scene captures. Outside St Peter’s Basilica on the day we arrived, there was a huge preparation for an important religious mass that would take place the day after, hence in the evening and well into the night, throngs of people gathered outside St Peter’s Square, setting up temporary food stalls and flea-market style cabins showcasing collections of costume jewellery, fine jewellery, art, tourist mementos, souvenirs, little collectibles of Vatican’s finest architecture, and flowers – from fine skinny stalks to big fluffy bouquets. As midnight approached, the crowd thinned, and melancholic street-lamps were just about the only ones creating shadows on the sidewalks. This is Vatican City at night, for you.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] 10 SNAPSHOTS OF VATICAN CITY

Bringing to you a quick showcase of the world’s smallest independent state – all 109 acres (44 hectares) around St. Peter’s Basilica and the palace of the Vatican. In and around are beautifully preserved cultural sites, lush green gardens, and museums which feature some of the world’s most famous sculptures and paintings. Home to architectural inputs of Bramante, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta, Maderno and Bernini, its chapels and homes distinctly echoes of Baroque and of the Renaissance.
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St. Peter’s Basilica:

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] VATICAN CITY – A VIEW FROM THE TOP

The view from the top of Vatican City’s St Peter’s Basilica was exhilarating, breathtaking, and worth the claustrophobia-inducing flight of stairs we had to take to the top. Once in your life, or perhaps through somebody else’s eyes, you should see Vatican City from its proudest heights. Here are some pictures I snapped, enjoy! P1040925 P1050009 P1050005 P1050003 P1050001 P1040990 P1040984 P1040983 P1040971 P1040966 P1040964 P1040961 P1040956 P1040950 P1040949 P1040947 P1040946 P1040944 P1040942 P1040941 P1040940 P1040939 P1040937 P1040935 P1040933 P1040932 P1040930 P1040927

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] ST PETER’S BASILICA

We were both blessed and unlucky to have arrived in Vatican City the day before a huge and important event for the Catholic Church. Many parts of the basilica were closed due to preparations for mass. On the upside, we got to witness the procession which arrived to prep the church up. There were massive tables, grand velvet chairs and draped upholstery.

Due to a 3GB flurry of photographs I’d taken of Vatican City, there was a need to split my posts on St Peter’s Basilica into 4 separate pieces (and more to come!).

In chronological order (previous postings):
[ROME] THE VATICAN CITY
[ROME] INNER TRIMMINGS OF THE VATICAN CITY
[ROME] LIVING, BREATHING ART

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] LIVING, BREATHING ART

Ancient art, very much still alive today. The pure gold in reflecting sun’s rays ignites a sense of silent power that only a calm basilica would bring. Mass in this majestic interior must have been a truly empowering and significant event. Am amazed at how this Panasonic Lumix GF6 of mine was able to capture this beauty in all its stunning glory.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] INNER TRIMMINGS OF THE VATICAN CITY

Be amazed at what human beings have achieved. Some dedicate their lives to creating art – intricate gold and bronze details adorn every inch of the ceiling at the St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. How did they get there, you ask. How did the people of the past achieve incredible feats like these. Patience, loads and loads of personal devotion to their craft. In short, people lived and breathed their art.

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[ROME] THE VATICAN CITY

We arrived, early summer morning, at the smallest internationally recognised independent state in the world! Dan Brown aficionados would undoubtedly link Vatican City to Angels and Demons, in which our all-time favourite Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon fights to stop the Illuminati from destroying Vatican City with the newly discovered antimatter. I loved every sequel, but Angels and Demons is by far my favourite Langdon novel. I was extremely psyched about seeing the Vatican with my own eyes!

The exterior was breathtaking – the pristine white columns, striking obelisk, and hordes of tourists snapping photos at every single picture-worthy monument. Summer is the best time for touring Rome. Sharing some of them lovely shots I took outside of the Basilica. Enjoy!

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] GRAN CAFFE ROMA

Breakfast was pepperoni and salami pizza at the Gran Caffe Roma via Vittorio Veneto in Rome, Italy. Alfresco dining in the morning summer breeze gave us plenty of room for people-watching, which brings me to remembering the blatant stares we’d throughout our journey received from patrons of pavement cafes and restaurants. Sometimes I wonder if we’re the first Asian species that these people are seeing. We too have 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth, no? The cafe interior was lovely, the servers were surly (clearly not morning people) and for an Italian joint the food bland and disappointing. Coffee, though, was the only yummy thing. Nonetheless the pizza, beef lasagna and bacon&cheese sandwich managed to satiate our ginormous need for carbs.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] THE COLOSSEUM

Rome was not built in a day. Pardon the cliche but it’s all I could think about right here and right now. The Colosseum is the icon of Roman masculinity being the site of many heroic battles fought within its colossal proportions. I’ve had the nagging suspicion that the Colosseum’s root word comes from Colossus, the legendary bronze statues of Helios at Rhodes, to complement it’s majestic size. I can’t help but imagine the sheer amount of bravery it must have took for gladiators to step onto that battle arena, knowing that this could jolly well be their last fight. I’ve also in my mind’s eye likened the battlefield to the modern day World Cup stadium. It’s just as grand, and it takes every amount of courage and pride a soccer player could possibly muster just to step onto a soccer field – all in the name of glory.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] IN ALL ITS RUINED BEAUTY

What everyone should love about Rome: its historic ruins and scatters of exquisite shambles. Much of this city appears discarded – as if picked apart by fickle historians and deemed unworthy of more than an afterthought. Centuries of time gone by lay preserved in these archived sites, untouched by restoration, that are as common in central Rome as trees are in Hyde Park. Charmed by relics as old as the gladiators, we stopped to appreciate a seemingly forgotten piece of land. Sometimes we forget how beautiful things are, if we just let them be.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] PIAZZA DEL POPOLO

Flanked by the Via Flaminia, Piazza del Popolo was an important entry point to Rome’s city centre for travellers entering the city via the Adriatic Coast. Today, the piazza still hums with a steady stream of travellers eager to check this off their travel itinerary. We took mandatory shots with Rome’s iconic obelisk which was initially erected to commemorate the conquest of Egypt, thereafter in 1815 the renowned Giuseppe Valadier redesigned by adding walls around the square, giving the piazza its current oval shape. The piazza’s church, Santa Maria del Popolo, located near the Porta del Popolo, contains many impressive works of art, including Rome’s oldest stained-glass windows and two famous paintings by Caravaggio.

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So much beauty and history in one place!

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] THE SPANISH STEPS

We took the best part of an hour to conquer the celebrated Piazza di Spagna, otherwise more fondly known as the Spanish Steps, which rises up towards the Church of Trinità dei Monti. Summer was shrouding us all in killer heatwaves. Nevertheless we managed to revel in the refined, eighteenth century atmosphere, once home to reknowned English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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The shots would have turned out better if the backdrop wasn’t marred by construction in progress! But still, been there, done that. Spanish Steps – checked!

Security in these tourists areas: military personnel everywhere.
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Piazza di Spagna (The Spanish Steps)

[ROME] THE PANTHEON

Let there be light! Through this massively gaping hole, summer was infiltrating the cool granite dome. Indeed, you haven’t seen Rome if you’ve never been to the Pantheon. This gaping hole right at the center of the majestic relic is what we call the oculus at the dome’s apex, which allows the only natural sources of light into the Pantheon. In a reverse sundial effect, light coming from the oculus moves around the interior of the grand space.

Whilst a large part of Rome still lay in ruins, the Pantheon is one of the best preserved and well-restored relics from the ancient times. Since the Renaissance the Pantheon has been used as a tomb, with two kings of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto’s Queen, Margherita, buried in the precinct. Famed painters Raphael Sanzio da Urbino and Annibale Carracci, composer Arcangelo Corelli, and architect Baldassare Peruzzi are also amongst those who would rest eternally within the dome, which in the present day is being used as a church, for weddings as well as masses.

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The Pantheon is circular with a portico of 16 large granite Corinthian columns. Two thousand years after its existence came into being, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Impressive, isn’t it?

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[ROME] PIAZZA NAVONA

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651), topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought to Rome in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius. Still pretty much awed by the beauty that lay in ruins all over Rome, scattered amongst the masterpieces that bring in the bulk of the country’s capital in tourism. This is Piazza Navona as seen through our eyes and captured with devices that will never bring out its maximum aesthetic capacity.
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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life

I received this book in exchange for a review, and here it is!
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    By Jennifer Criswell

Published September 28th 2012 by Gemelli Press LLC

MY REVIEW:
“It was this trip, during which I learned to say “yes” to every adventure, during which I’d felt romance and trusted my instincts, that convinced me that if I could muster up a little courage, I could chuck my legal briefs and follow my heart. To write. And to write in Italy.”

Taking the first step in solo travel takes a hell lot of guts…especially so if you’re starting over in an entirely new place, with no friends, bad grasp of the native tongue and just your gut instincts to trust.

Jennifer Criswell earns my respect – when she finally leaves New York and moves to Montepulciano, Tuscany, with her dog Cinder, she throws herself into the thick of it all, tries it all, makes many memorable mistakes while living it up in Tuscany.

In reality, life never comes in pretty packages. Cultural difference and language barriers aside, she meets roadblocks such as terrible landlords, monetary shortages, food crises and many more. Finding new friends and strengths in unexpected places is what makes her experiences worth reading about.

Despite being a ‘somewhat disastrous quest’, the spirit of finding yourself isn’t about being in the most glamorous places, but about discovering your inner will to make it anywhere, no matter how terrible the circumstances. I thoroughly enjoyed her tales of Tuscany, a truly beautiful Italian destination of many dreams!

SYNOPSIS:
At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Diastrous Quest for the Sweet Life is Jennifer Criswell’s memoir about her first year in Montepulciano during which her dream of expat life meets the reality of everyday challenges and results in sometimes funny, often frustrating, always lesson-filled situations.

Jennifer Criswell’s move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial Sunday group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy. But then she met the reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and, perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You’re in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer’s first year in Montepulciano. During that time, her internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things—in Tuscany. Jennifer’s mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, her willingness to embrace Italian culture, and lessons gleaned from small-town bumblings, help her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

Travel-diary: Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

Built circa 1080
Milan, Northern Italy
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The walls of the Basilica
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The confession chamber.
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There’s something about churches that illuminate the unspeakable calm
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One does not need to be of a certain religion to appreciate the beautiful monotony of rites
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The Basilica also houses the tomb of Emperor Louis II, who died in Lombardy in 875.
A crypt built in the 9th Century houses the remains of three venerated saints: Ambrose, Gervasus and Protasus.
It just didn’t feel right to take any photos of the bodies and urn.

Outside on the church grounds:
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An afternoon of absolute peace and zen, navigating my way around the church-grounds amidst curious stares from locals on religious missions.
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart)
stone’s throwaway from the church
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The smell of books, libraries, canvas satchels and sneakers…
reminiscence of a life I already miss.

Travel-diary: Naviglio grande Milano

Traveling is indeed a discovery of the self –
I’ve learnt that shopping is no fun when there’s so much sightseeing and exploration to do!
While everyone else was at Serravalle (designer outlet), I took to exploring on my own.
Armed with a fedora, and a city map and my batman suit, I was determined to find the famous Navigli in Milan!

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But alas, I got lost a couple of times, during which I slipped into the nearest cafe, ordered up a shot and asked for directions. I just love Italian coffee.

This is Robert, who introduced himself as Robin and called me Batgirl.
He seemed amazed I was on foot, and proceeded to point me in the right walking direction.
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And thus I ordered the drink that I came to fall in love with: Caffe Shakerato!
This beau is a combination of fresh espresso with sugar and loads of ice, made to froth by vigorous bartender skills.
Was it just me or there was a tinge of Moscato in it?
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After more than an hour’s walk across 3 train stations, Porta Ticinese was right in front of me!
The tremendous satisfaction of getting exactly where you wanted to go is amazing.
This, is Naviglio grande Milano!
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The Naviglio Grande was a canal dug to quicken city development projects via transportation of engineering essentials for the architecture that were to be built over the 12th/13th Century. In 1386, construction of the Duomo di Milano began, riding on the networks of water transportation.
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Breathtaking, isn’t it?
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Entered the Chiesa di San Cristoforo sul Naviglio,
as well as every other Basilica encountered at Navigli.
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The view from the other side of the Basilica
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And then I was hungry! Most shops along the route were evening pubs. Managed to find a bakery/pizzeria selling piping hot foccacia
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Mine came with olives, turkey ham, lettuce, parmesan and Emmental cheese~
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That revved me up for more walking.
There were actually passers-by who tried chatting me up, asking me where I was from yada yada, and these seemed to happen a lot in those narrow alleys that I had to cross.
One has got to man-up when exploring alone, to pretend that you know the place like the back of your hand.
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These European two-seaters! Do people purchase these cars for the sole purpose of man-and-dog?
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Before I knew it, I was done with my lunch and had walked the entire north and south Navigli.
It was a lot like Venice, definitely less tourist-infested, and less of the pomp and grandeur that the canals in Venice came with. And also, summer meant that mosquitoes were breeding to their hearts’ content.

At the end of the Navigli trail, I thought hey, I’m definitely getting better at memorizing streets and navigating with maps 🙂

Travel-diary: Milano (1)

Hell yeah we conquered Duomo di Milano
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With the incredible backdrop, touristy shots are absolutely pardonable
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Sad Mickey Mouse is sad… along the crowded street in the summer heat, busking in his thick costume
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My continued Gelato-Frenzy in Italy…how could anyone resist names like Nutella and Pistachio-Banana or Hazelnut Praline Cookies?
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Most incredible thing we encountered!!
but even this seemingly impossible feat can be simply explained through the hidden mechanisms under their distracting orange robes…the dude on top is probably sleeping with his eyes open
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Lunch, the Italian way
overlooking the sidewalk where everybody eats and people-watch
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Cafe Marocchino, a well-kept Milanese secret
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Ladies and gentlemen, my hugeass Mozzarella Pizza
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Keith’s Creme Pasta
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After lunch, we stumbled upon Piazza Castello by chance.
This is me being dwarfed by giant gnomes
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Awesome ride, baby
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Betcha can’t spot the Monkeys in the castle ditch
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Blossoming flowers!! The reason why summer is so beautiful.
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