Saturday, 14 June 2014

Perugia, Umbria, Italy (part 1)

Perugia, the Italian region with amazing wine, landscapes and food like truffles and wild boar. They also have their own local pasta, like many regions in Italy. Approximately 1,5 hours driving from Rome, Perugia is a beautiful little town, popular with students because of the local university. We stayed at an 'agriturismo' in the mountains. We did not realise it was that high up though. I have already told you that Italian drivers drive absolutely mental. They also do that on the smallest Italian mountain roads. The ones where every 5 seconds you find yourself in front of a dead corner. They still drive like they own the road. And people walk in the middle of the street! Crazy! 

MrBehomeforT got us to the right place in the end and WOW, it was beautiful! I found 'Torre Valbiancara' on Tripadvisor, and I can tell you that the place was indeed as amazing as all the reviews said it was. The owner told us the place was an old watch tower to keep an eye on rival Assissi. You see, throughout the years Italian cities and areas were at war and that's why all these beautiful city walls and towers were built.

We had a whole apartment with a kitchen and a living room. There was also a garden where you could sit down and relax. Cute dog and cat were walking around the property and there were flowers everywhere. You could see that the owner and his wife really made an effort to keep their customers happy. The place is so idyllic and beautiful. You could easily spend a whole day there sitting in the sun, drinking glasses of wine. We decided to go for dinner in Perugia, a 20 minute drive from the property. Later on we would find out that the owners were such amazing cooks that we should have not gone out for dinner on the first night.

 Perugia is a cute little student town with some stunning views. We found a nice place for dinner but had to wait for a while before it opened. Time for aperitivo! As. MrBehomeforT was driving he could not drink unfortunately. I ordered a wine and we got some bruschetta with cheese and ham, porcini and truffle paste and a salad with olives, tomatoes and some sort of grain. Very nice.

The restaurant was located in a cute quiet cellar with wine everywhere. We ordered a plate with some salumi and ham. We also ordered a plate with smoked meat in a citrus dressing, one of the house specialities. Absolutely love the meat here. It's delicious! I also ordered a glass of the house wine. There was only one other couple in the restaurant and the guy was showing the waitress several 'magic' tricks. The waitress seemed impressed. I could not help walking over to see what was going on. The guy, who I called 'the Italian Harry Potter' - in English with an English accent (no reaction from Harry), was balancing the edge of a cork on a bottle of wine with two forks. Pretty impressive balancing act. He was also hanging a fork off the side of a water bottle. When I said something like "senioro Harry Potter Italiano, bravo" - in "Italian" with an Italian accent Harry seemed to understand and he and his wife were quite amused.

MrBhehomeforT and I both ordered beef for the main. I ordered the special whereas MrBehomeforT ordered the normal 'bistecca' with potatoes. The special seemed to be the more rustic and the better version. Italians are serious about their food. They use fresh ingredients and are proud of it. Often the menu states which butcher the meat comes from. The steak was super tender, well seasoned and served with some sort of Italian vegetable. 

We had to have dessert of course. We thought we would try something else than Tiramisu, so we ordered the 'millefeulle', a flavoured cream with crunchy pastry. There were not exactly a thousand layers, like in France, but this simplified version was just as delicious. 

Then we had to drive back to the Agriturismo. I was so happy MrBehomeforT drove and I did not have to drive. The roads are so small, and so steep! It's absolutely crazy! It was dark too and I have to admit that I was stressed out. But it all went well and we got there safely. We ate some of the chocolate and the nougat slice we bought and drank some wine we bought earlier that day. I did not mind our castle like apartment, it was very cute.

The next morning we joined the owner of the agriturismo for breakfast. The breakfasts in agriturismo's and B&B's in Italy are in my experience extremely big. In Australia we quickly eat some cereal on weekdays, and in the weekend we go out for brekkie and order poached eggs or pancakes. In Holland we have a croissant or a 'beschuit' with cheese or strawberries and a lot of tea. But in the agriturismo we got a basked full of pastries including homemade pikelets, yoghurt, orange juice, fruit and tea. I was stuffed! 

That day we decided to drive through the region and visit a few villages in the neighborhood: Torgiano (which has a wine museum), Assissi and Spello. Pictures and more in the next blog post. 


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Monday, 2 June 2014

Rome, Italy

Rome wasn't built in one day, but we managed to see most of the major attractions in one day. From the airport a taxi would cost us 48 euro. A black "limo" (a normal mercedes) would cost us 50 euros. Easy decision. I'm happy I am not a student anymore. Holidays are so much better when you have more money and can afford a luxurious car or taxi, instead of having to carry two heavy suitcases and two extra bags to the train, on the train, metro, bus and more walking. No thank you.

If you have never been to Rome, or Italy more generally, you will notice that people drive like maniacs here! You would think there would be a reason for that and that it may work, but it doesn't. Every other car you see has a big dent in it or is damaged in another way. People do not indicate when they change lanes, drive way too fast, three cars next to each other, and they do absolutely not give way or allow someone to merge. Absolutely mental. Our driver drove like Fernando Alonso and we were both surprised we made it without having an accident.

Our hotel was a brand new hotel, the Fragrance Hotel close to Vatican City. The place was mostly finished but they were building an extra room downstairs. The people at reception could not be friendlier. And because the place was brand new I got two nights for less than the price of one. Rome can be expensive but this place was cheap! Normally cheap places are cheap for a reason, but this place was very good. Big giant rooms with both a bath and shower super close to Vatican City in a very quiet street. I would highly recommend this place.

We arrived on a Sunday night and the hotel recommended a restaurant around the corner. People go out for dinner late, a lot later than in Australia. It's pretty normal to still get a table around 9.30, 10pm. I already knew that the Italian food would be amazing, and I was not wrong. I NEVER eat at tourist traps. I always research the places I go to and I refuse to eat at a place which has a special 'tourist menu', even though it is cheap. I come here for authentic food and I will get authentic food. 

We ordered some 'salumi' which is salami and sometimes some ham or prosciutto. The meat platters here are beautiful! We also got some bruchetta with tomato, basil and olive oil, but we did not order this. Sometimes they give you a little 'welcome tapa'. One of my favourite things in Italy is happy hour. If you order a drink, they give you some tapas for free. The more you drink, the more you get. They can be little bruchettas with tomato, porcini tapenade, local cheese or ham or even a little salad. Poor students often use this option for a catch up with friends instead of going out for dinner. I love it!!

As a main MrBehomeforT ordered a pizza with mushrooms and meat, and I ordered the special, 'Vitel tonno', which I correctly guessed was Vitelli tonnato. You don't see it a lot in Australia, but in the Netherlands we have it on a 'broodje' (bread roll) for lunch. Cold veal meat (roasted I guess) is served with a lot of tuna mayonnaise and capers. It's amazing! Dessert was tiramisu and a chocolate truffle ice thing (not sure how else to describe it). Yum! I was stuffed after that! 

The next day we went to St Peters Cathedral in Vatican City first. I knew there would be a line but I did not expect one which was circled all around the square. We waited for an hour and a half or so, but it was worth it. Probably the best attraction in Rome. We also visited all the other usual sights, including the colosseum which was under construction. Add some gelato and you have your typical touristy day. 

Talking about gelato, the place we ended up was one of the tourist traps. I asked for Nutella gelato and I got actual Nutella. In a cone. Really?? I mean, Nutella is nice, but not in a cone! I ate the whole thing anyway :-) Fortunately lunch was a lot better! One of the places the lonely planet recommended was closed, but its bigger brother around the corner, Hosteria Grappolo d'Oro, was open. And when you hear Italian everywhere and it is busy, you know you are in the right place. 

We ordered a beautiful half bottle of wine and skipped the salami this time. I ordered a mix of appetisers. It was delicious but so filling! First there was millefeuille with burrata cheese and anchovy. The cheese was so creamy and had this beautiful texture. Just like mozzarella. Think you had good mozzarella if you had it from the Coles or the woolies? Wrong! Real buffalo mozzarella is the bomb! From now on I only want to eat the real thing. Too bad this cheese had an anchovy in it which made most of it taste really fishy. Not my thing. There was also panzanella with bread, tomatoes, tuscan oil, garlic and basil. Delicious! Then there were salt cod croquettes with a garlic sauce and eggplant rolls with ricotta cheese, tomatoes and basil. Finally there were oxtail and beef meatballs. They were sweet and had raisin in it and some green stuff, perhaps pesto. So good! MrBehomeforT had pasta carbonara which was creamy, cheesy and so tasty! 

A wine and some mozzarella with prosciutto and some bruchetta around happy hour. 

Of course we needed a real Italian coffee which was nice and strong, and tasted a bit better with sugar. 

After more sightseeing and some chill time at the hotel we went to Trastevere for dinner. This area is older and popular with the locals. Cobblestone streets and little alleyways make it really romantic. We walked into a place without checking it out before because our recommended place by the lonely planet had a long long line in front of it with tourists. However, I was really happy wit our choice. A cute little restaurant with amazing wine. I tried some local wine and special Italian wines but we ended up with a nice merlot recommended by the waiter. 

Entree was tempura prawns, chosen by MrBehomeforT. He had a steak with potatoes as a main and I had beef with a blue cheese sauce and pistachio's. The sauce was so good! Glad I had a whole bread basket to soak up that delicious sauce! Dessert was a three chocolate mousse and a tiramisu. The dolce (Italian desserts) are amazing!!!! So sweet and rich! 

Our day in Rome was done and although I generally hate touristy things, one day in Rome was nice, but more than enough. 

Next stop: country Perugia in Lombardy! 


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