Category Archives: Italy

How to be romantic in Venice

Like everything else in Venice, the price of accommodation there is ridiculously expensive. So we opted to stay on dry land instead, at an affordable hostel in the sleepy suburb of Mestre, which is only a 15 minute bus ride away. After settling in and doing a round of laundry, we set off for a romantic evening stroll in Venice.

Having fun with laundry. Not knowing how to operate the soap powder vending machine, Dylan had to salvage leftover powder from all the washing machines using his bare hands

Venice isn’t as romantic as it’s made out to be, unless you find getting lost together with a million other tourists romantic. The town (city?) is made up of 117 islands, which are joined by 400 bridges that cross over 150 canals. The resulting maze means that everyone gets lost here.

Ferries take locals and tourists along the grand canal

Gondola rides start from 80 Euro….! So we had to be romantic without gondolas

Another one of the grand canal, the main waterway through the city

Romance aside, Venice is an amazing place with an amazing story:  Bunch of refugees fleeing from invading forces set up camp on small islands in coastal marshland – villages integrate to form a republic – republic becomes major commercial empire – empire declines – Napoleon gives it to the Austrians – Italy takes it back – tourist hordes move in [See Wikipedia for full story]

One of Venice’s main attractions – St Marco’s cathedral

Spot the Malaysian tourists outside of St Marco’s

Venice has tonnes of other pretty buildings

There are many different styles of architecture from the various periods.. Byzantine, Venetian Gothic, Renaissance, Oriental, Tatooine, etc.. gets a bit confusing

The other great thing about Venice is that it has a couple of GROM outlets. GROM is a gelati chain that sells decent ice creams and is also kind to forests (it’s FSC certified).

How to be romantic in Venice: Present your other half with two cones of GROM ice cream!

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In fair Verona (and Padua), where we lay our scene

We stayed with our friends Josil and Davide at Davide’s family home in Verona. Davide’s wonderful mother fed us non-stop and we were quite certain that we (well, Sara at least) gained back some of the weight that we had lost since Morocco. Davide’s mother even made pasta and gnocchi from scratch.

Homemade pasta + Italy = dream come true.

Pasta, from scratch

The finished product: salmon and cream pasta

Homemade gnocchi with tomatoe sauce and cheese. Sara ate 37 pieces. Dylan was full after 25

As Josil and Davide were scheduled to attend a wedding (not theirs) in Padua and a Spring Festival at the Colli Euganei hills on the outskirts of Padua, the Cabutlaris were taken along for the ride in Davide’s family camper van. As our only experience with campervans was through Mickey, Donald and Goofy, we were definitely excited to be in a real one. Unlike the Disney model, Davide’s camper sleeps four and is equipped with a stove, sink, portable dining table plus a little toilet.

Having tea, Sicilian cookies and toasted cashews in the camper van

We were in luck as we stumbled upon free food at the pesta in Padua while Davide and Josil were at the church ceremony. Stalls were handing out fabulous risotto, cheese, bread, olive oil with bread and more cheese – we couldn’t say no to these, we’re Malaysians!

The fair at Padua

Asparagus and cheese risotto… free samples!

The Spring Festival was a fundraising event for an NGO. We had lunch here for a good cause, and met some of Josil and Davide’s colleagues from university who were also fellow foresters and conservationists.

A new Malaysian-Italian rock band

Sugar high after lunch

A feast was prepared for Josil’s 29th birthday which we tumpang enjoyed. Thanks for your family’s hospitality and for being our personal tour guide, Davide (and Josil)!

Davide and the birthday girl

P/S: Besides pasta, pizza and Nutella, another fabulous Italian invention we enjoyed was stove-top espresso maker.  It’s a simple but brilliant invention that is not yet popular in Malaysia but an essential household item in Italy. As lovers of good coffee, we just had to get ourselves one. Friends and family, come around for a cuppa when we get back!

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Rainy Porto, sunny Milan

We said goodbye to our short-term family in Parada de Gonta and caught the bus to Porto. It was especially hard saying goodbye to Zero, Jet, Kitty, Womble and Lottie; we started missing them as soon as we left the Quinta.

Zero giving Dylan’s head one last lick and bite

Although it rained all throughout the one afternoon we were there, we did manage a quick look around the pretty and very hilly city of Porto. We strolled along the port, rode the funicular, shopped for souvenirs and checked out an old bookshop that was featured in one of the Harry Potter movies. We spent the night at the Rivoli Cinema Hostel, another one of Portugal’s excellent hostels (this one won 5th Best Hostel rated on Hostelworld). We would’ve loved to have stayed a few more nights, but Italy beckoned.

Unfortunately, no photography allowed inside. Squint hard and you might see the crazy staircase

Porto – we liked it. Thought it was a bit like Georgotown, Penang, but a bit hillier

Definitely recommend this hostel for those going to Porto. They have a good collection of Star Wars posters too

We were a bit confused for a second. Porto airport is almost exactly the same as KLIA, just a bit smaller

The next morning, after a two-hour Ryan Air flight and a lost tin of sardines (confiscated by airport security), we were in sunny Milan-Bergamo. The temperature was 25 degrees Celsius and the air smelled of pizza.

We had one and a half days in Milan before we moved on to Verona to meet our friends, Josil and Davide. We had managed to find a good deal for a hotel room in Milan on Booking.com. Although it’s not great, the hotel is located in a nice residential area just five Metro stops from the city centre.

There are a lot of Asians in Milan – the Indonesian and Malaysian tourists, as well as the Filipino, Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese immigrants. About one out of three souvenir shops / fruit stalls / mini markets would be manned by smiling Bangladeshis. Although there is something very strange about having a Bangladeshi trying to speak to you in Italian, it amazed us that so many of these guys manage to fare well in distant lands.

Milan is where fashion meets religion. Its beating heart is the Duomo, an imposing cathedral surrounded by designer outlets housed in beautiful old buildings. From Prada to Alexander McQueen, H&M to Gap, Burger King to McDonalds, you can spend hours here just browsing.

The Duomo and metro exit

A shopper’s cathedral

Milan – where religion meets fashion

Following the recommendation of a friendly local who we sat next to on the flight over, we had ourselves some panzerotti (deep fried folded pizza) at Luini’s. It was so good that we went again the next day.

The lunch time queue outside of Luini’s

Worth the queue – spinach and ricotta cheese panzerotti from Luini’s

Having had enough of window shopping, we set out in search of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church to have a look at Leonardo da Vincci’s “The Last Supper” mural. When we finally found the place (after some getting lost and stumbling upon another pretty church) we didn’t get to see the mural as phone reservation was required, and to preserve the mural, only 25 visitors are allowed in every 15 minutes.

Man cycling in front of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. A lot of men in smart suits cycle around Milan

We never thought we would do this in Italy, but we ended our Milan stay with cheap and good Chinese food – fried rice, fried noodles, chilli prawns and vegetables with oyster sauce.

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