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Adventures in Eataly

“Uno piccolo coppetta per favor"

sunny

“Wow! I didn’t expect to see you,” I gushed as it brushed past me and went to the other table.
“What are you doing here?” I asked coyly.
“I didn’t know you were from up this way. I mean, I figured you came from somewhere nearby but this is…an unexpected surprise…
…You look good.
…You look really good”, I say, unable to tear my eyes away.

A huge dollop of Genovese basil pesto oozes down from the piece of toasted bruschetta. The fluro green oil is pooling at the bottom and the toasted, oily, garlicy bread is lapping it up.

“You are looking really good. I don’t mean to ramble but I mean it’s just so nice to see you. I have always adored you and now you are here, and its been such an unexpected, serendipitous surprise”.

My God that looks delicious. There were other accompaniments to the dish but I was focussed on that glorious green pesto dollop.

I sit there smiling, overwhelmed with happiness to see my old friend, one of my great loves right in front of me. While this is playing out in my head I realise I am still staring at the people at the table nearby (well their lunch). I don’t mean to, but this is a game changer. I had no idea this handsome little character was going to be on offer.

Delicious fresh basil pesto, one of my reasons for living and as it turns out, which I cannot believe I didn’t research fully up until this point, a regional speciality of Liguria.

It’s no secret that I love food and in particular Italian food. Italian food and the mediterranean diet of fresh, delicious ingredients really is a major drawcard for returning to one of my favourite countries in the world. It has beautiful sights, stunning landscapes, interesting history, friendly people, good weather and delicious food. The best thing about Italy is food is a shared passion, it is expected that you dine out and eat several courses and to talk about your meals. It enriches your travel experience ten fold. In my early 20s it was about the cheap lunch of bread and cheese, then as I got older I visited the occasional restaurant as a treat and sought out regional specialities especially cheap and easy street food. Now I have a steady income, this trip to Italy was going to be even more delicious. This trip was going to have a dusting of truffle salt and a “hell I’ll have an entree as well” attitude because ‘treat yo self’.

I was ready to do Italy. I packed my active wear, which remained the only clean item I returned with, and I packed my snacktive wear, which I put on daily to ensure I was comfortable to take on several courses. Good snacktive wear provides flexibility because sometimes it is imperative to push meals close together so as to not miss a good opportunity so elastic waists or free fall skirts. Obviously you also have to be mindful of keeping the colours dark to avoid a splash of the old pomodoro sauce or an equally disastrous chocolate gelato drip. There’s no time for washing clothes on holidays.

Moments after touching down into Roma, I hit the streets and soon found myself ordering a panino, a Roman street food staple and finding a curb side location looking at the Roman Forum to eat it. I sat at street level because I may have an income now but I am still a gypsy hobo at heart. My sandwich had roasted eggplant and buffalo mozzarella swimming in a tomato sauce. I looked at the hot and sweaty faces of the tourists walking by with their white runners and maps, I gazed on at the relics of ancient Rome and really just took a load off and enjoyed my sandwich. Now this is a travel experience, being ushered around the colosseum in 40 degree heat is worth doing but snacking while taking in the sights and sounds of the city is a much more preferable task.

When I say I love Italian food, really it cannot be categorised so broadly. It is highly regionalised, sure you can go anywhere and get a pizza and pasta but there is a whole world to explore when you get specific about flavours, styles and specialities. Pizza though a Napoli special is found everywhere, they vary in quality but are rarely disappointing. They can be made to about 75cm in diameter and sold by the giant slice or are just your regular family-sized 8 slicer for one. Sharing pizza is only required when you want to order more than one thing (which by the way is always). Getting one pizza as a meal to share is a waste of an eating opportunity and your clean snacktive wear. Small eaters need not apply - holiday elsewhere. Pizza is kept simple with a few combinations of tomato, mozzarella and insert other ingredient (mushroom, meat, eggplant, fresh tomato, a giant dollop of pesto - all are deliciously simple). The dough needs to be light and crunchy, thin enough that it bubbles a little and can be folded and eaten in one go should you be in a hurry to catch a train or get to dessert. I am also partial to a calzone, pizzas less-cute cousin, it’s really just a pizza folded in half to become a giant fun pocket that bursts with steam and shrinks down to size oozing its delicious cheesy innards all over your plate.

Speaking of innards, a Florentine speciality is Lamperetto, a tripe sandwich. I gave that a miss but all good restaurants will serve the regional specialities. If it’s not in season you won’t find it on a good menu, a good italian menu is handwritten and changes all the time. It bugs me to see people sitting at terrible tourist traps in the main piazza, paying top dollar for mediocre food. I guess perhaps its just me not wanting to waste a meal on something not mouth wateringly delicious. Do a little research its always worth it then you can make an educated decision to avoid eating gizzards despite it looking delicious served in a fresh bread roll with tomato sauce like a meatball sub.

My last Italian snackcursion was to Sicily, where desserts and seafood reign supreme. In the North you are in ravioli and risotto country, colder climates require more sustainable food. Minestones and bean soups are all wonderfully delicious and hearty Tuscan specialties. The North is also fungi territory where mushrooms and truffles reign supreme. Adding a little truffle salt to your meal is mind blowing. Obviously i’m more financially stable at the moment but i’m not a millionaire, I can’t be owning €15 salt so I use the free stuff when it is on offer then salt heavily to get the most out of it. Thirsty work, but worth it.

As you move through Italy you can see the pasta preference change from strands of varying thicknesses to odd little twists, blobs and whoziwhatsits. All pasta, all delicious but changing constantly. The street food, or rather, the snack food of choice also changes in each region. While I survived on arancini in Sicily and panino in Rome in Liguria the street snack of choice is a focaccia, something I never realised was anymore than a bastardised Australian thing. I knew they baked the bread but it comes with an array of delicious baked on toppings that you can buy by the slice or the gram like a pizza. Another familiar face popped up on the menus in the North west, my old friend bruschetta. A range of toasted breads with all sorts of fresh toppings, tomato, basil, mozzarella and often a few slivers of anchovies.

In Tuscany you couldn’t go far without snacksidentally consuming meats and cheeses. Italy makes what seems like a million different processed, smoked and cured meat products. Giant legs and salami type things of various colours, shapes and fat content. You can actually just buy slices of lard if that’s your favourite part. Then there are your cheeses to accompany it, usually hard cheeses like pecorino or parmigiano, any quiet, unassuming cheese that is not going to take the focus away from the meat. There’s no room for a showy, decadent soft cheese here. Admire the platter on arrival then dig in, grab a bit of crusty bread or a dried cracker and just pile that bad boy up with a meat, cheese, meat combination of your choosing then just throw it in. Throw it in and chew, chew, chew, don't focus on the strings of fat that are getting stuck in your teeth or the giant speckle of white fat you just ate. Florence loves meat and I love seeing legs of animals hanging from the ceiling, I find it fascinatingly gross yet rather whimsical. The Florentines also favour a focaccia as their daily ‘on the move’ snack. Theirs is made with no salt because a million moons ago because they didn’t want to pay a salt tax to Pisa so it’s deliciously oily instead. Soft but crunchy around the edges. Specialist sandwich shops will slice you some cured meats and make you a delicious sandwich with a variety of sandwich cremes; spreads made from truffle, eggplant, olive or artichoke. Like a delicious tapenade to soak up what part of the bread the oil hasn’t.

There are a million delicious dining options to discuss but the most important piece of advice however with restaurant dining is to ensure you are travelling and dining with a fellow snacker. A person who also thinks a post-siesta, pre dinner salami and cheese platter is a top idea. A good food companion will go on this food adventure with you and won’t order a salad or suggest you just get a pizza to share. You want the type of person who always says yes to an entree and always agrees that if you both order two mutually agreed upon dishes and split them then you get to eat more delicious things and never feel like you are missing out.

Finally, undoubtedly one of the best parts about any European summer holiday is gelato. There’s hundred of flavours, all gloriously piled up in a rainbow of colours. Gelato as I learned is made with more milk than cream which is why is melts faster than you can eat it and it is why proper artesian gelato has a runny, almost sticky consistency that they have to plop onto the cone. This also allows one to claim it healthier than ice-cream and therefore just plain healthy. The best place for gelato is Italy, the home of gelato is generally attributed to Florence but some don’t agree with that. While I would never discriminate, I tend to lean towards a sorbetto, the fruit flavoured gelato usually made with the finest seasonal fruits. As a connoisseur I can share some of the tips of the trade. A good gelateria will keep its product under the counter in little silver canisters like the treasure it is. Hidden away from prying eyes. They will also have rotating flavours and sell out because they will be making what is in season and making it every day. Good gelato will also not be vibrant in colour if they are making it properly because a banana isn’t yellow. While all gelato is delicious, refreshing and cool on what is always a scorching hot day in any Italian city, if you are going to do it, do it properly. You won’t regret seeking out store made, artisan gelato. You may pay a little more for your ‘piccolo coppetta’ but it will always be worth it. Earlier this year I rode my bicycle to work and I said for every time I rode I could have two gelato in Italy. I lied to others and to myself because I had 17 gelato in 17 days and rode my bicycle once. It was imperative that I have a gelato every day because once you start there’s no point being a quitter (that’s for team sports when you realise sitting at home is more fun that sitting on the bench). I tried my best not to repeat a flavour so it could be considered a science, historical and cultural experiment as well a weight-gaining exercise. Limoncello, green apple, pomegranate, apricot and melon were some of my favourites while some of the more unusually delicious flavours I consumed were basil and lemon, chocolate pear, ricotta and Chianti red wine. It is important to remember that if you get a small cone or cup, it’s perfectly legitimate to eat one every day. Haters gonna hate.

Throw in a food tour where I sampled too many different flavours of cantucci (biscotti) then purchased an extra kilo, ate countless pieces of assorted meats and drank wine then did a pizza and gelato making class i’ve ensured everyday in Italy had a delicious melting buffalo mozzarella moment served with a sprig of fresh basil.

With a heavy heart, a croissant with Nutella in one hand and an espresso in the other, I prepared to leave Italy. At immigration I received my certificate for sustaining Italian agriculture and one for my dedication to the consumption of carbohydrates. I lamented how having Nutella croissants is frowned upon as a breakfast item at home as I dipped that puppy into my coffee. Then thought how that also is probably frowned upon.

I guess the detox starts Monday?
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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 03:31 Archived in Italy Tagged food travel italy pizza pasta gelato pesto the_tipsy_gipsy Comments (0)

Pa-DANG it!

Trying to Avoid Ingesting Parasites

sunny

“Here try this”, a lady suggests as she hands me what looks like a rice cake/large cracker while at a food market in Jakarta.
I bite into it slowly, nearly breaking my teeth which amuses the group of onlookers greatly. They watch on as I chew the hard biscuit slowly and cautiously, as they deliberate on the correct translation.

“…calamari," they chirp.

My throat closes up and the saliva dries as I swallow a chunk of dried out, mushed up calamari, pounded into cake form. I smile awkwardly and give them a nod, like “tis’ as good a calamari cake i’ve ever had”. I then hold it awkwardly between my thumb and finger, extended out from my body like an offensive smelling rag. I let it dangle in my hand while I look at some meatball-esque objects, like i’m far too intrigued and far too busy right now to take another bite. I’m going to save that puppy until later.

I have arrived in Indonesia with the hope, nay the expectation, of sampling some of the culinary delights of the Dutch East Indies with the acceptance that, unlike say, an Italian snackcursion, this one could have dire consequences.

As I round the corner and toss the calamari cake into the bin I reevaluate my tactics. Without a doubt a good snackcursion, a food focussed holiday, requires a little curiosity and adventure but also a peppering of pure logic, it’s a delicate balance. It is the acknowledgement that the brain needs to be party to all culinary decisions. To eat or not to eat? Will this make me violently ill? Is it worth it?

Over the course of my travels I have only had food poisoning twice. It is the ultimate act of treachery. The first culprit was a Bosnian cevapi, a local ‘kebab’ type dish with meat and sour cream, in retrospect it sounds a little iffy, but it was delicious. Cut to, me in an Islamic graveyard (1000s of white stick markers swirling around me) stumbling to find a way out to avoid spewing on the grave of a Bosnian war hero.
The second time was in Morocco. My guess is I ingested something horrendous over the course of 3 days in the desert with no toilets, showers and partaking in the local custom of communal eating from one plate. Just a guess. I have vivid recollections of resting my face on the cool bathroom tiles of an Agadir hotel, looking closely at the grime and pubic hairs I was sharing the floor with.

As a result I am a little cautious, wary of what may bring me undone. So naturally I arrived in Jakarta prepared to wash my hands, take tablets, drink water, use hydration salts and be an all round responsible traveller and sanitise, sanitise, sanitise.

Upon arrival, within minutes, I went in search of food. As expected of any Asian city I traipsed down broken footpaths, stepped over giant holes, jumped over mystery piles of goo and danced around the sidewalk edges, entering oncoming traffic to go around street sellers in order to find food. This urban hike was in search of a meal, which was to be undertaken at the first decent looking restaurant — clean, open, lit, other customers, electricity, walls etc.
Eureka, a building. We went in blind to every other aspect and sat down ready to start this exciting, but ever so careful, food adventure.

It turned out to be a Padang Restaurant, the very popular cuisine of the Sumatran city. As we sat at a dirty old plastic table, 12 dishes were immediately placed on the table in front of us, distributed from a pile like frisbees. The spread consisted of an assortment of rice, beef rendang or old shoe leather unsure at this point, chicken pieces in sauce, eggs floating in sauce, prawns and baby eggs floating in sauce, just plain ole bowls of sauce.

* meeep! meeep! meeep! *

The alarm bells start a dull ring in my ears. I would have preferred to have ordered al a carte and maybe avoided anything too rich on the first night. Also there was not one dish that I would have ordered. I really don’t care for things floating in sauce.
Oh boy!
We didn’t want to be rude as we look around and every table is digging in to their bowls of food. A quick glance around tells me that these people clearly are pleased with this offering so maybe we too should embrace it. They seem to love sauce bowls.
I inspect the meal and the surrounds with trepidation. I watch another group of diners sit down and the waiter pile up dishes and dump them on their table…then I realised all the dishes are preprepared and piled up in the corner of the restaurant.

*brrrrrring! brrrrrrring!*

the alarm bells are tolling just a little louder than before.

Cold food. Pre-cooked. Sitting out in the non air-conditioned room.

Oh boy!

We were too far in, we had taken that leap, there was no going back as we sip from our dirty cup of hot tea and tentatively poke the food with a spoon.
Why are these chickens so skinny? What the hells are those balls? Are they bird eggs? Questions float around my mind as I look at the spread in front of me, wondering what I could eat. The people around us are delighted with their plate of skinny chicken bones and suckle at the sinew.

We tentatively dive in, nibble, poke, lick, prod. I tried to swallow the deep feeling of regret and drown out the alarm bells with the cleanest pieces of beef rendang. I cut at the hard piece of meat with my spoon, as they don't believe in the need for knives in these parts. Every swallow felt like another step along the plank. The food was cold and indistinguishable. We poked at things and cut off bits to experiment and analyse.
hmm whats that? A few bones floating in sauce. A boiled egg - why not. Is this chrysanthemum tea? or is it just the taste of hot, reused plastic?

We felt as though we were being unappreciative so we chipped away at the food mustering the courage, or enough curiosity to try something else. As I dished myself up some more plain white rice with a little sauce from around the meat, I watched the waiting staff clear the table next to us. As they cleared the mess into one giant bowl of ebola I realised that the untouched, or rather, still aesthetically acceptable plates were returned to the serving bench in a pile with the rest. The plates with one piece of chicken left were placed onto another plate to create a new one ready to be served again.

Oh boy!

*aoooooga! aoooooga!* Evacuate! Evacuate!

A few new servings of scraps were placed over the side where our dishes were served from. Yep, they reuse food.
And.
We’re
Done.
We called it quits, the alarm bells were drowning out the sounds of the streets of Jakarta.
This was not a great start. This was against everything I had planned to do. Within an hour of landing i’d broken all the golden rules of the snackcursion.

It was a hot day, with a bit of luck I might sweat out the toxins… I thought as I pushed the rest of the food into the middle and stood up.

We went to pay and the whole meal of junk cost us $20 — quite a lot by Indonesian standards. As it turns out you pay by what you eat/touch which for us was practically everything as we were trying to be polite and look as though we gave it all a nudge and it was wonderful. We had left no item unprodded. There was no way were going to eat the prawns having seen the rivers, but there was also no way we weren't going to poke the balls floating in the same sauce and cut them open to see what was inside (pigeon eggs is my guess)... boom, $3.80.

I think they made their months profit it one evening.

I wandered back to the hotel with a heavy feeling of regret in the pit of my stomach or did I already have typhoid?
I returned to my room, took a probiotic and sat and waited for the apocalypse, the inevitable wave of bubonic cholera dysentery that I was sure would come and ruin my trip/kill me at any moment.

… either way Padang food. Check.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger right?

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>>>Adventures in Indonesia 2014

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 03:58 Archived in Indonesia Tagged food indonesia travel asia the_tipsy_gipsy snackcursion Comments (0)

How I Got Misled by a Girl Guide and Nearly Died

Greased Lightning

storm

“All right folks we gotta go”, the grumpy most unparkrangeresque Park Ranger ever quips after cutting herself off from telling bat facts in between tales of untimely park related death and tragedy.

There was lightning rolling in and nothing causes more craziness and fear in these parts than lightning. Ranger Debbie Downer had told us that in the event of lightening any bat fun would be cancelled. Obviously she had a depressing tale to attach to the warning, “someone died” she said matter-of-factly, “not long ago, in the car park, struck by lightning, dead”.

As she shouted into the microphone about bats needing silence, a fork of lightning smacked into the mountain top 50 metres in front of us with an almighty crack, making the air crackle.

The bat exodus from Carlsbad Caverns was officially called off. Everybody started filing out without another word and hurried across the car park to their cars before they became one of Ranger Negative Ninny death tales.

This wasn't our first brush with lightning related disappointment. Camp ground pools close whenever a sheet of lightning flashes 100 miles away and this has really hurt more than once and with a heatwave of weather and rain storms following us across country, it also wasn't going to be the last time.

It was in Washington DC that the lightning storm and I got more acquainted.

I'm not entirely unfamiliar with storms and for the most part they don’t bother me, sometimes I worry I might drown if it rains too much and fork lightning is strangely beautiful but entirely terrifying but you know I can get through the night. Usually.

This particular night was a whole other story.

Camping isn't my favourite way to get shut eye, for many reasons to do with comfort, but also due to the fact that I hate getting up early and tend to stay up late. This kind of routine is entirely impractical in a tent and it’s very dull sitting in the dark outside at 11pm on Facebook with every insect in Texas keeping you company.

On this night, everyone was asleep and my sister and I headed to the bathroom at midnight as usual to get ready for bed. There is a storm brewing and some lightning overhead.

We finish up and are met at the entrance by an over excited woman in her early thirties standing there with a young girl of about 12. A van pulls up out front and she shouts out, it appears they are doing some kind of rescue mission.
We mill about a second as the lightning appears right above our heads and I'm wearing socks and flip flops and don’t fancy an overly brisk walk trying to grip on to them.

“You guys campin?” the lady asks.

We tell her we are. She doesn't approve.

“In tents?”

She shakes her head.

“You shouldn't be camping out there tonight. There is a severe weather warning. Go get your stuff, your sleeping inside”.

It was less, go get your coat you've pulled and more, you will die out there, get your sleeping bag and get the hell inside.

They were a Girl Guide troop from Savannah, Georgia. They had decided they were risking life and limb out there and were moving camp to the TV room.

They offered to drive us over to get our stuff.

“No, it’s fine, there is like 13 of us”, we said.

Go wake everyone up and bring them inside. There is enough room for all of you. You will be perfectly safe in there, we are four Girl Guides and two Girl Guide leaders. She delivered that line like she meant, you will be perfectly safe in there, we have a rifles and German Shepard’s guarding the door.

She was like a cartoon character. A little overweight, in her thirties perhaps and had been a Girl Guide for some time, perhaps risen through the ranks as others left once they found out about TV and people. She was relishing the opportunity to put some training in to action. Her co-leader was a chain smoking, older lady with the black lung by the sounds of her.

No, it’s fine we said. Everyone is asleep.

“Go wake them up, it’s not safe for you to be out there”

She wasn't joking. She truly believed our lives were endangered.

Right, so by now we are starting to think we are going to die too. She was very convincing. We are stuck in the doorway with these people, not risking walking away at this point in case she spear tackled us to the ground for our own safety.

“Is it your policy not to camp when there is a storm,” I ask

“prrrr, it’s the national weather channels policy,” she says with a ‘bitch please’ tone like she was making a call re: the entire safety of the US during an alien invasion movie.

“Everyone else in this park is safe, the RV's have tyres. Rubber. You have aluminium poles. You have no protection, you may as well be sleeping outside. If lightning strikes the park everyone else if safe, you’re not”.

How many times do we need to be told in our trip that we could die?

“Where are you camping?” she asks. Oddly enough the answer was ‘just over there, on a small mound under some trees and some massive power lines’.

She did not approve.

“Go wake everyone up,” she said again.

We were not going to do that.

“Do you have a guide or a leader”

Yes we answer, we were starting to buy into her hysteria. We could start burning witches at any moment.

“Um, she’s in the van”

“Well she will be fine, tyres. The rest of you are in trouble”

Again, she wanted us to go wake up our guide and tell her to move everyone inside.

The young girl guide looks entirely inconvenienced to have been moved to inside where they must sleep on the floor. She looks up at us like, ‘I know, just shut up and get your Hello Kitty sleeping bag and shut her up’.
We go in to the TV room to appease them.
Guide number one mills about making sure the windows are latched and everyone is safe. She looks over to check that we are still inside as we sit on some chairs nearby with Girl Guides sleeping at our feet.

Guide number two disappears to the doorway for a cigarette between coughing fits. She pokes her head back around and informs us that there is a bench in the laundry we can sleep on and take turns.
This has turned into some kind of emergency relief shelter. Our beds and our blankets are 100 metres away and these people want us to sleep on a bench like there is some kind of cyclone abrewing.

We appreciate their concern and sit around for a little while waiting for our opportunity to leave safely, because they have a point here, there is some hella lightning going on outside. I grab Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman off the bookshelf, assuming somewhere in there it probably says, “sleep in your dumb tent you big baby, it’s just a little rain”.

My gen Y sister can’t get the campground wifi on her phone so is ready to risk it and run.

As the girls are told to shut up and go to sleep on the carpet in their sleeping bags, we move out to the veranda to make our well timed escape to our tents and our sleeping buddies, who are at this point are obviously blissfully unaware they are going to all die through the night.

We chat to old guide number two on her continual cigarette break by the exit. She coughs up a lung and tells us about the deadly lightning and that she doesn't know what to tell us, we could go back to our tent but you know, we could die out there.
She starts counting the lightning and rumbles.

“1 2, 3 see that’s only 3 miles away”
“….that one was more like 6 miles away so it’s hard to know”, she coughs her lung out, sips her soda,
“2 miles away, that one was close”

Who trains these people?

We are wide awake at this point and pull up some chairs next to her and watch the lightning overhead. It feels close, consistent and lights up the whole sky each time. Forks zigzag across the sky and assumedly strike people dead at 15 minute intervals like some kind of Voldemort curse. Sirens are heard every now and then, out collecting the many fried corpses we can only assume.
We are starting to fear for our lives.

I am starting to think we will sit there all night and tomorrow when civilisation has ended, we are going to have to join the Girl Guides and move to Savannah. And I have too much junk in my trunk to pull off tailored Girl Guide shorts.

By this stage its 1am, we are sitting on some plastic chairs outside with a chain smoking Girl Guide leader and a frog who is also trying to escape the weather.

She calls it a day, wishes us well in our decision and hopes we had a nice life as it will be ending shortly. She heads inside I assume to sleep hanging from the rafters as she was skinny, sickly pale and had a black lung. Or, maybe her deathly pallor was merely the result of her diet of soda, coffee and cigarettes at 1am.

A campground man came by to refill his soda at 1:30am and we asked him if we should go back to our tent.
He said ‘yes, you will be perfectly fine’. He’s seen groups camp in much worse and that the storm is quite a way off. We can sleep inside if we wanted to but it’s really not necessary.

We were like, “b-b-but the girl guides…”

He said they were idiots,

“They call that camping, swimmin’ pools and sleeping inside,” he tuts. It turns out they always panic and sleep inside.

Eventually some sense kicks in and we decide that we can’t sit there all night in our pyjamas holding our toothbrushes, watching a frog stare suspiciously at a broom. We had to live our lives and decided to make a run for it back to our death trap of a tent.

All it took was some logic from someone drinking a 44oz Coca Cola at 1:30am.

We ran, or I shuffled in my flip flops and socks through the rain, cursing loudly, along the open bit of road under the massive power conductors, under the trees, back up our hill to our electricity conducting tent which by this stage was sitting in a pool of electricity conducting water.

Not expecting to see daylight again we lay awake in the tent the rest of the night until we fell asleep from exhaustion around 4am. The lightning kept cracking overhead and lighting up the tent. You could see it with your eyes shut. The rain fell steadily and a few cracks of lightening felt like they were overhead.
We spent much of the night with our heads out the door of the tent watching. If I was going to be struck by lightning and die, which was a high probability at this time and mindset, I was going to enjoy the damn view.

We considered going back inside more than once because we had got ourselves into a dither, well the Girl Guides had worked us into a dither and we were so tired from a 12 hour driving day that we needed some sleep, and fear and lightning were waking us up at regular intervals. We slept with our heads basically on the same pillow. With our runners on in case we need to make a quick getaway.

We yelled out to our fellow campers a few times as we were not the only ones awake, the only one fearing for their lives, but not the only ones awake. Others were sleeping peacefully but boy were they going to be in for a rude shock when they die from a power line crashing down on our heads which again, seemed incredibly likely at this time.

Someone was on the internet and yelled out to us that Baltimore had just been issued a severe weather warning with a high chance of flash flooding.

Great. We were going to drown as well.

Water started pooling next to my bed and my leg was in it most of the night.

Eventually the storm passed over and once it felt at a decent distance we fell asleep and awoke to a new day. Albeit wet, with a little bit of wind destruction both the tent and us were still standing by the dawn of the next day.

We felt so stupid and so tired. The Girl Guides had got the better of us, two people not scared of anything really, spent most of the night trying to lie low and hide under sleeping bags waiting to be struck by lightning.

Over by the bathrooms the next morning, Girl Guide number two was out the front smoking a cigarette and drinking from an oversized cup and straw. Breakfast soda and a ciggie I presume.

“Hi” she said in an I-am-truly-surprised-to-see-you-alive tone.

“Hey Australia”, the cartoonish one yelled from the toilet when she heard us in the bathroom. We ran out before she could see if it was us and that we had survived.

We were informed the next day that tents don’t conduct electricity and we were perfectly safe.

We had been fear mongered by four girl scouts and two Girl Scout leaders which, come to think of it with some clarity the next day may have just been two lesbians and four kidnapped pre-teens...

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 19:49 Archived in USA Tagged travel usa weather lightning storms the_tipsy_gipsy Comments (1)

Haloumi, Chest Hair and Honey Boo Boo Child in Cyprus

Luxury in Larnaca

sunny 32 °C

I was in luck, it was still the season for sun tanning and middle-aged semi-nakedness when I arrived in Cyprus. A warm 32 °C October day to melt my then British sensibilities and warm my cockles.

It seems, although part of the EU, the English and the Russians have kept this little chunk of haloumi of an island firmly under their hat, or say nestled deep in their chest hair. This is chartered flights, hotel transfer and lobster-red Brit country.

Cyprus is located south of Turkey, closer to Syria and Lebanon than it is to Greece but is generally considered a Greek island, so it was safe to expect a Greek-like attitude to life, one very similar to Italy, shops will open late and close early, working-age adults manage to be at the beach on a Tuesday, and buses will come when they arrive, which was confirmed after waiting 40 minutes for the airport bus only to take a taxi.

My driver was a typical Cypriot, both amazed I was there but also somewhat outraged I hadn't been before. We chatted in broken English about Cyprus and the important aspects of my time in Cyprus* (*I asked what I should eat while I was there because I don’t want to miss something delicious.)

My Cypriot adventure came about because I wanted to see somewhere new and have a break before flying back to reality/Australia. I had decided it was a good idea to have a relaxing few days lying by the pool/beach in the sun; I'm not sure who I had in mind when I thought of this idea but it wasn't ole- concentration-span-of-a-peanut me. I can’t sit by a pool 10 hours a day.

There is a severe hostel shortage in Cyprus so I had to spring for a hotel, its fine I thought, I’ll treat myself. My budget was restrictive. My hotel vacation wasn't as glamorous as anticipated. The shabby run down appearance was regarded by the hotel as, “Cypriot style”. The pool I was to spend my days frolicking in didn't look like the pictures and I wasn't keen on catching a UTI so it seemed best to avoid a dip. The advertised sauna was closed, or behind a closed door, so quite possibly doesn't exist. The natural highlight was the foyer which was tastefully decorated with a large-scale wall mural-come-diorama of a beach and village scene with 3D peasants coming at me with baskets, a 3D donkey and some rocky landscape.

I kicked back on the sofa because naturally you could only get Wi-Fi in the lobby, perhaps a result of a 3D peasant wall? Before long I was joined by three Russians, who plonked around me to watch a Russian soap opera on the 1970’s TV. It appeared to be filmed in someone’s backyard on someone’s uncle’s JVC home video camera with a very unglamorous soap cast. The girl was glued, she had that Russian-emerging-from-the-iron-curtain-in-the-80's haircut where her fringe goes all the way around, like a bowl cut with some lower fringing. The hair - mesmerising. The soapie - terrible.

My Larnaca resort also offered a sizeable hole in the middle of my bath towel as well as an inclusive buffet breakfast (before 8am) of boiled eggs, toast, ham* (*ham-shaped luncheon meat) and white flavourless cheese.
Which begs the question, how can something as delicious as eggs on toast be so horrifyingly bland and depressing as a piece of toast with a hard-boiled egg? Talk about boiling the life, soul and deliciousness out of something.

There wasn't a lot of hot water but there was air-conditioning and I had an adaptor for the up to then ‘decorative’ TV with European cords and UK sockets, and could catch a TLC marathon or 10, add a dash of Honey Boo Boo Child to my vacation.

This hotel was a veritable treat I really was indulging myself with such luxury.

I was asked a few times if I was Cypriot, I'm not, but I do eat like one. They surround you with food in these parts, a salad, some pita, some tahini, some olives, an appetizer-perhaps some grilled haloumi, then your main comes 10 seconds after and you are up for a veritable feast surrounding you on a table, you can snack in multiple directions. Though Larnaca is a fishing village where you can get a bunch of fish and other marine life, I kept it mainland and had my fair share of kebabs, gyros, moussaka, haloumi and kleftiko-a lamb speciality suggested by my taxi driver.

The Cypriots I met were usually excited to learn I wasn't British or Russian. The old lady’s kick around in black moomoos. The men sit outside cafes and restaurants drinking coffee and playing cards or backgammon. People spend hours fishing or sitting around and watching people walk by. There is nothing more uncomfortable than gradually walking towards a group of men whose day job is sitting and looking at people. These men enjoy leering, winking and nodding to show their approval. Look, I know I am rapidly ageing, I am fully aware that I have a few grey hairs and I don’t know what the cool kids are listening to these days but I know for a fact, I cannot possibly be mistaken for 65. FYI a toot of the horn and a wink repulses me just as much as the gold chain hidden in the forest of your chest hair. On the same topic, put a shirt on, you are in public.

It was a fleeting but interesting visit to Aphrodite’s homeland, more hairy old men than Greek deity but I was envious of the lifestyle. I hope my future consists of retiring at 50, spending a substantial block of time sitting outside my house on a plastic chair, playing a few rounds of backgammon with the gang and eating home-cooked moussaka. I learned Cyprus and I both share a love of iced coffee and having food spread around you while eating. Cypriots also are very proud of their abundance of stray cats; I however was not so pleased. Also a significant* amount of Haloumi was consumed (*obscene).

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 20:54 Archived in Cyprus Tagged travel hotel larnaca the_tipsy_gipsy Comments (0)

A Coffee and Cannoli Overlooking Stromboli

I-talia, it's the besta food in the worlda

sunny 33 °C

“Mangi mangi”, the Old Italian Nonna living in my head says as I attack a family-sized pizza at 1:30am. Yes, a whole one and yes I had already had dinner, but the imaginary Nonna also tells me,
“Mangi bambino, you are just skin and bone”.

“Si Nonna, si”

It’s true I am just skin in bone only with a hefty carbohydrate layer protecting me from the elements. The Italian love of the 3 P’s is certainly not lost on me, and a philosophy I can get behind. A daily dose of pasta, pizza and pane (bread) will get you through life happy, maybe a little lumpy around the edges, but certainly happy.

As you may have noticed previously I do like a good old fashioned eating holiday. I take them under a guise of a normal, cultural and historical expedition, but I intend for them to be a non-stop snaxcursion.

Italy is responsible for some of my favourite food groups, fresh produce, tasty flavour, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bread and delicious desserts, including my personal raison d'être, gelato. So it was fitting that for my second 2012 jaunt/food holiday it would be back to everyone’s favourite boot and in particular, it’s football, Sicily.

Yeah, sure I was excited for relaxing on the beaches in some well-missed sunshine. I was going for the Sicilian culture and the beauty of Italy, but I was staying for the cannoli, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a big, fat, pistachio-encrusted liar.

A lot of great Italian food comes from Sicily, they gave us the tasty street snacks like arancini – stuffed, deep fried risotto balls, desserts like cannoli and cassata as well as seafood dishes of countless concoctions. While planning my holiday I compiled a list of foods I needed to eat and the restaurants and cafes who were the best purveyors of said foods, I managed to pen this song which sums up my mindset.

Pizza and pasta and Sicilian caponata,
Arancini, gelato – limone or fragola
Blanco or rosso what vino you bring
These are a few of the edible things.
Coffee and cannoli overlooking Stromboli…etc.

I was excited about my breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and on a 10-day adventure I couldn’t afford to waste a single meal on something not amazing and not part of my culinary adventure. About here my mother would say, “stop thinking about your stomach” but in my defence the cuisine is as much tied to the nation’s culture and traditions as the sights. So not only is it legitimate to have a food holiday, if you don’t partake then you are missing out on a perfect, prosciutto and mozzarella stuffed slice of authentic Italian life.

I don’t want to give you the impression I attacked Italy like Pac-Man, consuming all that was in my way. It’s not entirely inaccurate but I do have some class, and some rules, tips and tricks to share with you about embarking on an Italian food holiday, or if you prefer, a cultural and historical visit with a subtle, high-level food focus.

First and foremost, the first stop by one and all upon arrival, the gelataria. Well, first city stop, it’s not unusual for me to have a coffee purchased and consumed in airport arrivals. Find an artisanal gelataria, where someone is following old family recipes and churning gelato with a mixture of sugar, cream and liquid happiness. Gelato is not only allowed, but required to be eaten at least once a day, if it is particularly hot you can have it more than once.
A breakfast gelato is perfectly acceptable but one must stick to breakfast flavours like your fruit varieties, coffee is also acceptable.
For other flavours you must wait until noon...okay, 10:30am.
In Sicily you are allowed to have a scoop of gelato inside a brioche bun. It’s a Sicilian speciality so technically it’s a cultural exercise to indulge in such a grossly obese breakfast item.

Gelato Tip: Think about your flavours, those who mix cream-based flavours with fruit flavours are the goon drinkers of the gelato connoisseur world. For example, ordering a zesty, refreshing lemon with a creamy Nutella gelato is the action of a monster/serial killer.
Also when practicing your excellent Italian while ordering, note that incorrect pronunciation of Pesca (peach) and Pesce (fish) produce very different results.
Sick of gelato? Sacrilege. Try a granita, a Sicilian drink made with crushed ice but in the fancier parts more a creamy, runny ice cream.
Also feel free to buy a brioche and dip that bad boy in there as well. Totally acceptable.

Coffee. Your daily cappuccino and croissant is a breakfast that merely lines your stomach for further gastronomic delights. You are only supposed to order a cappuccino at breakfast from then on just throw back an espresso to really feel your heart beat.

Coffee tip: A latte as we say in Australia, well, “la-day”, is a glass of hot milk in Italy.
My friend was tired and feeling ill when she went in to the bar to order her coffee. As the girl brought out my café latte and her latte, I laughed hysterically for 10 minutes, I was making such a scene even the guy at the other table started laughing. Lesson reinforced.

Other Sicilian specialities include fish, mussels, swordfish and other under the sea critters, molluscs and crustaceans. So much fresh seafood is for sale at the Catania Fish Market. I had to foolishly worn sandals and had to deal with the trauma of wet, fish gutsy feet. The giant swordfish is a sight of pure misery, when I think about how they were probably just swimming about, no doubt playing pirates with their noses as one would if one had a sword for a nose, then boom, dead on an old plastic bag of ice in a filthy bucket.
The highlight was old men peeling prawns amongst piles of rubbish in the gutter under a bridge, an old guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he serves an old lady, picks up a fish and throws it on the scales, the ash dropping on the display of marine life, some of which was still wiggling no doubt wondering why they were on ice and couldn’t quite swim away. Oh the panic.
I did try some swordfish, the taste was meaty, salty but otherwise unfishy. I was also going to be adventurous and try another local speciality, a stuffed sardine and I very nearly did, my fork touched 4 crumbs of the stuffing and I wretched.
I also tried a seafood risotto which tastes like the beach, being dunked by a wave specifically.

So seafood is lost on me, but while Sicily has all the usual delicious suspects like pizza and pasta, what I needed to get my fat, little pork sausage fingers on was the desserts. I wasn’t to be leaving the island without eating a cannoli, a pastry tube filled with sweetened ricotta. It was decadent and creamy with a slight crunch from the shell and the pistachio encrusted ends.
You’d have someone whacked for one. And I imagine the Mafia do all the time.

My food excursion/cultural visit to Italy was complete with a cooking course in Rome, where we whipped up a gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, tiramisu, stuffed peppers and stuffed pumpkin flowers.

Arrrrrghhhlll *drools on keyboard*

I am no professional but with a class of mostly Americans I would consider myself a Michelin Star-level chef (or Michelin man-sized chef) in comparison, primarily because I didn’t ask things like “gnocchi, what’s a gnocchi I’ve never heard of it” or when shown how to crack a walnut say “oh my gawwd that’s awwwwesome”. Yes it is… it really is. It must be wondrous to be so easily impressed.
I learnt some facts about eggs, garlic and tomato but more that I wish I were Italian and that I want to have a Nonna to take me to the markets with her to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, perhaps a whole swordfish, then help her whip up delicious meals while she told me to eat more tiramisu because I’m nothing but skin and bones. I want that.

So in conclusion not only do I love Italy and Italian food but I am officially in the market for an adoptive Italian family. My Italian is limited but with some lessons, a bit of sun and some darker hair dye I could pass as a local. In exchange I’ll do what I do for my own family, eat their food, live in their house, dance in the TV ad breaks and sing in the car over the radio. Forward any interest to my email address.

Ah Italy, you are a country so great, so amazing, so delicious you fill both my soul and my stomach with glee. Alas though, you make the post travel misery even more prevalent as I look at the Tesco sandwich selection, wondering who would buy a plain cheese sandwich, and long for an arancini stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 08:01 Archived in Italy Tagged food travel italy sicily pizza pasta italian_cuisine the_tipsy_gipsy Comments (1)

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