The Life Adriatic

As lovely as the trullo is, today we decided to explore a bit further afield.  We headed to the coast, which is only about 20km away, but it’s 20km away on Italian roads, driving on the wrong (right) side, with right hand drive cars.  An adventure!

When we reached the Adriatic Sea (we’re on the right hand side of the heel of the boot of Italy), we drove up the coast road for a bit until we found a spot that looked good for a Sunday family lunch.

The view from the car park was promising.

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And the restaurant entrance even more so.

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We had wanted a restaurant by the sea, but this was almost in the sea.  We ate on the back deck, as the waves crashed around us.  The water was brilliant shades of turquoise to indigo, and in the distance kitesurfer sails played in the breeze.  This part of Italy is almost ridiculously too beautiful at times.

While we were waiting for our meal, Toby took a selfie.

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I have a new phone.  My iphone took a fatal leap from the table onto the stone tiles – not just a screen shatter, but the whole thing has stopped working.  That combined with the black spot that was starting to eat all my photos (I checked, it was in the lens, not on it), meant I wasn’t so keen to try to get the screen replaced.  So, in an adventure for our Italian and technological knowledge, I bought a Samsung Galaxy S5 from a phone shop in Locorotondo.  The shopkeeper changed the language to English for us, and I’ve almost taken off all of the Italian apps that came preloaded (I’m toying with keeping a couple…).

So far…  I think I like it.  After a very, very long time of only having apple products, it’s a bit of a learning curve, but we’ll see.  It has got a fantastic camera on it, which I appreciate. What Toby loves, however, is the selfie function.  When taking a selfie, if you hold your palm up to the camera, the phone will automatically take a photo 2 seconds after – letting you hold it out without contorting your body to press the button, and pose like mad.  For me, that’s meant a lot of blurry selfies, but  Toby’s managed to make it focus.

Meanwhile, Kate and Joe worked on looking as Italian and glamorous as possible.

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When lunch came it was fantastic.  It was seafood (unsurprisingly).  I had the fritto misto (literally mixed fried).  This photo is taken after I’d eaten a fair bit – eating while hot and amazing took precedence over photography.

Prawns, octopus and baby squid.
Prawns, octopus and baby squid.

I am finding the regional variance in food amazing.  Where we are staying is farmland – and the antipasti reflects that.  Lots of vegetables (fresh cooked and preserved), and always fresh farm cheese.  At the coastal restaurant, only 20km away, no vegetables, no farm cheese, but more meat and olives.

After lunch, we drove back down the coast to have gelati at Savelletri.  I didn’t take a photo of the gelati, but Toby had lime and declared it his new favourite flavour.  Millie had strawberry and good lot of my chocolate.

Toby also posed with a statue, and we stopped to watch the fishing boat come into the fish shop.

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(The graffiti says 'Allentati' which google translate says is 'loose'.  I'm mystified as to the meaning.)
(The graffiti says ‘Allentati’ which google translate says is ‘loose’. I’m mystified as to the meaning.)

We met an English couple at lunch, who were surprised that as Australians we’d traveled so far down south.  ‘Normally tourists don’t come this far’ they said.  ‘Yep’, we replied.  ‘But that’s why we love it.’

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The Life Adriatic

Buon Compleanno, Millicenza!

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One year ago today, this little creature came into the world.

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Ever since she was born, Millie has been our little zen baby.  The midwife commented on it in the hours after she was born, and from day 1 she has been, for the most part, a contented little soul.

I think it’s partly because she has an abundance of love surrounding her – aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins, great aunts and great uncles, grandparents, family friends, and of course her fiercest ally and most loyal defender, her big brother.

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The above are just a sampling of the people who adore Millie, and fill her days with love.

Though content, she is also determined.  She has always made her opinion on Things She Does Not Want To Do very well known, as well as Things She Wants To Do.  This week, Things Millie Wants To Do have included working out how to open the gate to the swimming pool (successful: the gate is now locked); eating slaters (success status undetermined: I’ve certainly fished a couple out of her mouth); and pulling the washing off the clothes hanger as soon as it is put on (successful).  If you stop her in any of these pursuits, she is not happy with you.

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Millie has been a joy over the past year – she transformed our little family of three to something new, something that can be overwhelming but that is also wonderful beyond words.

So today, here in a beautiful trullo in the south of Italy, we were lucky enough to celebrate one year of having our own Millicent Margaret Amanda.

Millie really liked the paper hats.

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Millie really liked the paper hats.

She was spoiled with far too many presents, although she had her own unique style of opening them.

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One particularly special present was a little dress.

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It was originally mine, and then passed down to my sister, Kate.  And now Millie carries on the tradition.

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As my Mum noted, there’s room for a few more baby girls’ names there.  But we’re happy with the one we’ve got.

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Happy Birthday, Millie.  A trullo in Italy isn’t a bad place to have your first birthday.

Buon Compleanno, Millicenza!

The difference 24 hours makes…

Yesterday, we caught a train from Rome to Bari.  We left the apartment at 7 to catch our train – the Frecciargento fast line.  The train was, as promised, air conditioned and quite comfortable even in second class.  We sat in our four seats, and pleasantly passed the time.

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‘Isn’t this nice’ we thought.  ‘We’ll get into Bari at midday, meet Mum at the airport, and be at the trullo by 2.30’ we said.

Then the train pulled into Foggia, where it was set to change direction.  The electricity was disconnected, as one elevator was pulled down from the end of the train.  We didn’t see this but the air conditioning etc cut out.  Then (well, as a far as I imagine), the driver got out, walked to back of the train (now to be the front), hopped into the cockpit, and pressed the button to make the elevator at that end of the train go up and re-connect to the electricity.  And…  nothing.  No power.

We didn’t know this at the time, of course.  All we knew was that we didn’t leave Foggia.  As we sat there, the carriage started getting hotter and hotter.  The conversations around us in Italian got louder and louder.  And the phone calls from other passengers got grumpier and grumpier.

Finally, Tony found a conductor and asked what had happened.  The answer he got was ‘Train kaput.’ How long until we started moving again? A shrug.  ‘Who can say?’

So we sat for a bit longer.  Cartons of bottled water were dumped at the train doors.  Then, a rumour started running down the train – there was a another train to Bari, at the station, leaving at 12.15.

It was 12.  So we grabbed our not inconsiderable amount of luggage, the boy and the baby and went to find the other train.   There was a lift down from the platform we were on, but not a lift up to the next platform. I carried Millie in her pram up the stairs, while Tony carried our big two suitcases and Kate’s suitcase up.  We jumped on the train – not a fast train, but a local, all stops, slow train with an upstairs and downstairs (both too full with too narrow staircases to even think of getting our cases up) and one middle platform.  So we stayed on the middle platform.  As did most of the other people defecting from our broken train.  It quickly got very crowded.

As the train went on, it got even more crowded.  I don’t know if the air conditioning was working, but it certainly made no difference to our bit.  And so we went on for 90 minutes or so.

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I’m hemmed in at this point by our two enormous suitcases.  Not in the the photo – the sweat running down my legs. Kate and Tony are opposite me, and Toby had a seat by himself.  I do have a photo of Kate and Tony looking incredibly sweaty and disheveled, but that’s blackmail, not blog material.

So that’s where we were at about midday yesterday.

At midday today, we (numbering 6 now, having picked up another family member – Gramanda is now on board!) were walking down the road from our trullo in Puglia in search of a local restaurant for lunch.

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A baby trullo we found on the way to the restaurant.

The roads are quite narrow, and there is no footpath, so the walk did involve a bit of traffic dodging (more like flattening ourselves into the stone wall whenever a car approached).

But we all made it to the restaurant, itself also in a trullo.

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We had read that the antipasti was very good, but also very large.  At 12 euros a serve, we thought 3 serves would be fine for the 4 adults and Toby, with Millie eating a few mouthfuls here and there.  We also ordered 4 mains.  Rookie mistake.

3 antipasti turns out to be an enormous quantity of amazingly delicious food.  We couldn’t finish it.  Just as we thought that had to be it, another dish would come out.

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Some of the spread – about midway through.

To start with, out came taralli and some kind of salted broad beans, with some excellent, still warm sourdough bread.

Then came thin slices of fried zucchini with mint, zucchini in olive oil (in little curly ribbons – it was quite amazing, the texture was springy and it was delicious.  I’m sure it had been pickled slightly, and I’m going to work out how to do it.), artichokes that had been preserved but still had some resistance to them, and a mix of cooked and preserved capsicums and tiny chillies in olive oil.

Then came a warm cannellini bean puree with onions; little bruschetta rounds with tomato on top; two types of thinly sliced ham; deep fried tiny sweet peppers, dusted with salt; triangles of fresh farm cheese on intensely peppery rocket; a foccaccia with tomatoes baked on top; rounds of fried dough with a salted soft cheese dipping sauce; and some kind of bread ball in a tomato sauce.

Then, as we groaned in our seats, came deep fried zucchini chips with the lightest batter imaginable; beef meatballs; arancini balls and bowls of tripe.  It’s safe to say tripe was not the favourite, though I did try some.

That was antipasti.  We still had mains to come.  It was glorious, but we learnt our lesson for next time – just order the antipasti, and get dolce if you need it.  36 euros (about $56 AUD, or $40 US) would have fed all of us very handsomely indeed.

On the way back from the restaurant, we passed the garden with the much denuded zucchini plants.  We saw the tiny sweet peppers growing, as well as the tomatoes that had adorned our bruschetta.  Going by the rows of eggplants almost ripe, I’d say antipasti in a month will feature eggplant as heavily as ours did zucchini.  We walked (rolled) happily back to the trullo, picking figs from the roadside on the way.  I’d been told that the food in Italy only gets better as you head South, and I am very happy to confirm that on the basis of today’s meal, it holds true.  Obviously I’ll need to do more sampling.  For science.

The difference 24 hours makes…

A Roman Holiday

It has been a lovely, if hot, few days in Rome since my last post.  Tony has been doing some work with a colleague, which has meant a bit less blogging time for me (particularly as Toby has been fairly resistant to the whole concept of the siesta).

But today it seems everyone else is asleep, and I have the air conditioner and some time to myself.

So what have we been up to?

We’ve visited old buildings:

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I found the Colosseum slightly jarring.  It’s estimated that at least one miliion people died there over its active life.  And it was absolutely covered with tourists, taking selfies.  I can’t think of any other massacre sites that are now massive tourist attractions.

It was interesting, though.  We paid for one of the tours (I actually had to follow a spruiker to get their attention – worst spruiker ever!) and learnt quite a bit.  Like the marble slabs around the perimeter of the arena:

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They are engraved with the names of the people who sponsored the events.  It’s stadium advertising, just 2000 years old!  (The arches and brickwork you can see were all under the arena – they were covered with a wooden floor, which was then covered with a thick layer of sand: to soak up the blood.)

We’ve eaten gelati.

Monday: Mint
Monday: Mint
Tuesday: Basil, Honey & Walnut (me); Passionfruit (Toby)
Tuesday: Basil, Honey & Walnut (me); Passionfruit (Toby)
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Wednesday: Hazelnut and Passionfruit
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Wednesday: Millie got her own little cone of peach sorbet.
Friday: Raspberry and Lemon
Friday: Raspberry and Lemon

We’ve also grown in size: one more family member added to the traveling circus!

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For the record, Kate’s gelato choice today was stracciatella:

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I’ve still been revelling in the amazing produce available here.  We’ve been eating our own body weight in buffalo milk mozzarella and proscuitto.

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Last night we had Tony’s colleague and his wife over for dinner.  I cooked as best I could in the (rather oddly equipped) kitchen.  As well as various antipasti bought from the excellent delis nearby, I bought a beautiful bunch of zucchini flowers from the open air markets.

My kind of bouquet!
My kind of bouquet!

I stuffed them with a mix of buffalo ricotta (we have a buffalo milk shop a 3 minute walk down the road.  It is awesomely dangerous), sage and lemon zest.

I also bought some tonnarelli, which is a fresh pasta made by rolling out sheets and then pressing them through a wire frame to cut them into strands.  It’s a regional speciality which we had tried at lunch, and loved.  I checked out the fresh pasta section at the local supermarket and sure enough, there it was! So I bought some fennel, and some clams, and some scampi and made a seafood sauce to have with it.

Scampi tails in the pan - the heads and claws went into a bisque which formed the basis of the sauce for the pasta.
Scampi tails in the pan – the heads and claws went into a bisque which formed the basis of the sauce for the pasta.

This morning we headed over to the Vatican museum.  We didn’t have time (or energy – particularly with Toby on a hot and muggy day) to see everything that was on offer.  We did look at the Egyptian collection, which was astounding.   I have never seen heiroglyphs up so close (no glass case!) – and they are so uniform and beautifully carved.  There are also several sarcophogai, including one with a mummy still in it.  Toby saw it before we quite realised.  His eyes went very wide, and I suspect we will have some questions at bedtime tonight.

We then walked through a series of passages with ridiculously beautiful ceilings.

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We couldn’t take a photo of the most famous ceiling though – no photography is allowed within the Sistene Chapel.  So, for your viewing pleasure, here is one we prepared earlier.

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It’s been a wonderful week in Rome – tomorrow we leave, heading South again.

A Roman Holiday

To market, to market

Given that I am a fan of great ingredients, good cooking, excellent coffee, sunshine, picturesque views, shops with more character than international blandness, and cobblestones, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I like Rome.

In fact, I love it.  At least, I am loving living in Trastevere.  It’s not hard when the view out of the main room window in your apartment is this:

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Or when the street you walk down every day looks like this:

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We are living right near the Piazza San Cosimato, which is surrounded by many little coffee shops/bars/gelatarias (making the Daily Gelati an easy task indeed:  today’s flavours were tiramisu (me), fior di latte (Toby) and black cherry (Tony).)  We have been taking our coffee at tables instead of at the bar: it’s more expensive, but easier with the kids.  So far we’ve tried three coffee shops within 5 minutes from our apartment, and all are excellent.  It is going to be hard to go back to coffee in England after three weeks in Italy. There’s also various delis, pastry shops, little boutiques selling charming things that are very easy to spend a lot of money in, and an open air food market every day except Sunday.

The food market is directly opposite a playground, so both Toby and I are happy.   Everything closes for siesta – a habit we are trying to adopt with varying degrees of success.  Every afternoon, as things slowly awaken, we have found ourselves back at the Piazza, and Toby joins the groups of Italian kids roaming the playground.

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Meanwhile Millie is still not walking.  She has however started to climb.  Our apartment has a very low sofa and coffee table, and her new favourite trick is to climb onto one or the other, and then fall off (usually headfirst) onto the marble floor.

At the playground she is also determine to climb.

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So the local neighbourhood is perfect for us.  Yesterday we did decide to venture further afield.  We went to two markets – the Porta Portese Flea Market, and the Circus Maximus Farmers Market.

The flea market was enormous.  We started at one end, which was decidedly on the ‘flea’ side of the equation – lots of bric a brac, old soviet military badges and paraphanalia, old toys, various bronze and silver trinkets and so on.  As we walked on the bric a brac gave way to new merchandise – beads, clothes, lighting, scarves, furniture, books, handbags, electronics – anything you could possibly think of.

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It did get a little overwhelming after a while, especially as whenever you turned a corner, more market stalls stretched out ahead.

We did finally find the end, and crossed the River Tiber to the start of Old Rome.  The farmers markets are held just behind the Circus Maximus ruins, and we had a lovely walk up along the riverside to find them.  The markets themselves were small, but very busy.  There was one fruit and vegetable stall in particular that was packed.  When we finally got served (at least 15 minutes of waiting after taking a number), I chose the one vegetable that I had no idea of what it was.

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A quick google when we got home revealed it to be Puntarelle: Roman Chicory. It was sold pre shredded and curled, ready for making salad.  We ate it with a dressing of garlic, vinegar, salt and oil and it was delicious.  I have bought salt packed anchovies today to add to the dressing (as is traditional).

The rest of our dinner last night was also courtesy of the farmer’s markets:

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Truffles, fresh pasta, puntarelle salad – perfection!

Tonight we have been eating little buffalo mozzarella balls from the local buffalo milk shop (where Toby got his gelato) with Prosciutto di Norcia (I am amazed how many different types of prosciutto there are.  I was familiar with Prosciutto di Parma, but there are many more regional variations, each protected.  Our local supermarket carries quite a few different ones).  Later I will make a risotto with the enormous bunch of asparagus I picked up from the open air market this morning.

La Dolce Vita indeed.

To market, to market

The Daily Gelati

For the last month, I have been promising Toby that in Rome we will have gelati every single day.  Our deal is he will try a new flavour each day, where possible.  (The rules are actually a bit more complex than this. Toby has reached an age where he likes to have every eventuality covered.  We have rules for two gelati days, rules about what actually consists a new or different flavour, rules about what happens if there is no gelati, and so on.)  So far, he has happily accepted the challenge.

Day 1:  Buffalo milk strawberry

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Day 2:  Strawberry sorbet.

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(Not pictured:  sneaky afternoon gelato, lemon.)

Day 3 – lemon:

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(Not pictured: farmer’s market raspberry gelati).

Toby’s favourite so far was the strawberry sorbet.  Millie’s favourite has been all of them.

We have 5 more full days in Rome, and many more gelati shops to explore.

The Daily Gelati