Italy: Naples

Naples is the third largest city in Italy and one of vast contrast. On one hand, I saw a city that has taken advantage of its bayside location and built extensively around it with luxury hotels, water glittering with cruise ships, and a promenade filled with nice bars, restaurants and lemonade stands. There are some stunning views and building architecture that would give Rome a run for its money. On the other hand, away from the bay, it’s a city that is still rough around the edges, meaning still developing and a tad seedy. A positive side to this however, is there aren’t many tourists around so there is overall a more genuine feel about the city.

What Naples does take seriously is pizza. There are a few basic rules with the pizza of Naples. It must be cooked in wood burning brick ovens. The crust must be soft and light, thus the dough is made the day before it’s used allowing time for the yeast to rise. The pizza makers must be masters in their profession, which requires 2-3 years of apprenticeship experience. Told you – pizza is serious business.

Other than my highlight of pizza gluttony, having the opportunity to visit Pompeii the lost city that I’ve read so much about, was incredible. We were off to a rocky start in the morning since, being us, we bought train tickets to the wrong Pompeii station (being the modern Pomepeii city, called ‘Pompei’) instead of to the Pompeii ruins called ‘Pompeii scavi’. The wrong station is about a 15-20 minute walk to the ruins which isn’t a disaster, but inconvenient nonetheless since there was so much to see in one day. Walking into the ruins itself is like stepping back in time. Pompeii is frozen in 79AD when the volcano erupted and buried the city with its inhabitants. Walking down the streets and seeing these slices of ancient Roman life, including the apprehension when walking up to the glass exhibition where Pompeii’s victims are lying as a stone figure covered in ash, is an unreal experience.

Visiting the ruins of Pompeii was great, but climbing to the top of Mt. Vesuvius, the only active volcano in Europe was extraordinary! The hike to the mountain is quite steep, so shoes with good grip soles would be recommended, but the view will make you forget the sweat drops and short breaths (especially in AY’s case) of getting up there. The volcano blows out smoke since it’s active. Had to remind myself multiple times that it was real and not a movie.

Must sees:

  • Pompeii: as described and pictured above, and don’t miss seeing Vesuvius. There is a cheap shuttle bus option (6 euro return) that you can get information for at the Pompeii ruins ticket office. The bus drives to and from the mountain 3 times a day and it’s about a 20-30 minute journey each way.
  • Museo Cappella Sansevero (Sansevero Chapel Museum)The audioguide that accompanies this museum is the best audioguide I’ve listened to. It’s informative, factual, guides your eyes to different section of the museum while it tells you stories about it. I’m not sure why, but no photos are allowed to be taken in the museum. I’m also not sure why, but I hadn’t heard of this museum before even though the artwork inside, through its creativity, family values and mystery, caught my attention and awe more than any other museum I’d visited in Italy. It’s a small museum, but jam packed with detail and ingenuity. Entrance is 8 euro, or 5 euro if you’re under 25. They don’t check ID if you say you’re 25. I know this because…
  •  Naples Bay: Stroll along to enjoy the scenery, lively atmosphere and teenagers dipping in the water.

Must eats:

  • Da Michele: They only do 2 pizzas – margarita and marinara, but they were the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. Upon recommendation by my dearest Mo (@ theeleventhcolumn.wordpress.com), I’m convinced they may make the best pizzas you can find on this planet. A very no-frills restaurant where tables are shared with others and customer service is non-existent. We expected to wait in line for a while, but when we arrived at 6:30pm or so on a weekday, the restaurant was only half-filled so we got a seat straight away. I’m salivating now thinking about the pizza there. Must move on.
  • Casa Infante: Artisan gelato! Rates as my equal first gelato favourites as Florence. I chose banana and chocolate chip, which may not be to everyone’s taste and not all that compatible now that I think about it. They know how to gelato.
  • Palazzo Petrucci Restaurant: A michelin star restaurant experience that is second to none. It is the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to and they really don’t cut any corners in terms of customer experience. May not suit everyone’s budget, but if you have a special occasion coming up this is a definite winner and easy to book over email.  I was honoured to be part of AY’s anniversary dinner.

I can’t stop thinking about that pizza.

 

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Italy: Florence

Labels. It’s very much part of our society to slap labels on things that fill that void of arrangement into the chaos that is our daily lives. Bae, Fav, MainAF, and the list continues. I too, am guilty of this. Last year when I visited Florence on a whirlwind, I labelled Florence one of my favourite cities in the world. Yet after spending 4 days here this time, that label hasn’t changed and this is why.

When you take a step back, Florence is a scruffier version of Milan. The dress style is a bit scruffier, beards a little less trimmed, street stalls looking like they’re more likely to rip you off, dogs are scruffier, the pavement a little less even; the city itself looks like a city that is truly lived in by its citizens. Forget perfection, Florence is thriving on art, religion and character.

The city centre is so central they don’t even have a metro system – everywhere is reachable by foot and the terrain is quite flat which makes these walks easy and enjoyable. The people are friendly enough and we had nil issues speaking no Italian other than ‘ciao ciao’ and ‘grazie’.

The Medici family are imprinted everywhere, and their wealth had obviously made a very big contribution and impact to Florence economically and art flourished under their investments. Their family history spoke to me inadvertently since I used to have a client with the same surname. I wish I knew whether she was a descendant!

Let’s dedicate a moment to art. I’m by no means an art connoisseur, but even for someone as, for lack of a better term, uncultured (in respect of the great arts) as me, could appreciate and stand in awe of the art that Florence exudes. From the sheer brilliance of its coloured marble buildings to the art galleries and homes that house thousands of sculptures, paintings and architectural facets (also the three things Michelangelo excelled at, sorry I couldn’t help but slip this in).

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My favourite artwork in Florence but I couldn’t tell you why. I was drawn to it like a moth to light.

Florence is a beauty on its own and photos can’t do the city justice.

Must sees:

  • Mercato Centrale Firenze (Florence Central Market): we stayed really close to here and came every morning for top quality coffee and food. Don’t be deterred from the food/meat market when you enter – head straight up the stairs. Your tastebuds will thank you.
  • Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square): the square where Italian gothic architecture comes to life and hits you in the face like a high-speed bullet train. We bought the all-inclusive ticket (11 euros), which included entry to the cathedral, museum, crypt and top of both the bell tower and dome. The views are breathtaking no matter where you are – the ground, inside, or on top.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo:  further than the main attractions, and some stairs to climb to reach the top of the hill. The reward? Free views of the whole city, best from sunset to dusk. Bring a picnic if you can.
  • Uffizi Gallery: you can choose to prepay tickets (costs an extra 4 euro to prebook) and skip the queue, or save that extra 4 and pay the regular entrance fee of about 11 euro. We did spend a good 40 minutes in queue, but we were in no rush (other than me suffering the consequences of drinking too much water earlier) so this suited us fine. When inside, we picked up a pair of audioguides to help us understand the meanings behind some… Ok, all of the artworks that the gallery had to offer.  We didn’t believe reviews when they said a whole day could be spent in the gallery, but it’s true. It’s never-ending. About 3 hours into it, we were art-ed out, but spent another hour or two navigating ourselves to the exit. The audiobook speaker was monotone and factual rather than a storyteller. If I had to look at another sculpture/painting of the annunciation or crucifixion I think I would’ve yelled out bloody murder. Not that any of them are bad in any way. The talent behind each one is evident and so worth seeing, but us being us, had a limit to how much artwork we could take.

Must eats:

  • Edoardo Gelateria. We have eaten gelato every single day that we’ve stepped foot in Italy (come at me diabetes), and this one has been the best so far! It’s next to the Cathedral, which is precisely the reason why we found it while wandering around. The aroma of their handmade waffle cones wafts out of the shop and is absolutely drool-worthy. The gelato itself has a really smooth texture. Flavours are a tad different from the norm here, but that’s what makes it unique. Half the flavours on their menu (which changes daily) are also vegan options. AY disagrees with this favourite gelato place of mine, which is OK and highlights the notion that everyone has different preferences, note to take my opinions with a grain of salt (or more appropriately, sugar). IMG_4920
  • Florentine steak. I don’t recall the place we ate it at, but a steak that’s named after its own city is reason enough to try it. Be prepared to eat this only if you like steaks rare-medium rare.

Florence I’m coming back for you!

Italy: Milan

Being my first time here, I had expectations of high fashion roaming the streets; everyone dressed to the 9’s looking down on others that looked in any way less than crispy perfect. Fortunately for all (especially me, in my Zara jeans and Forever 21 t-shirt), my misconceptions were indeed purely misconceptions about this beautiful city. There is a huge emphasis on art, design and architecture here. Not surprising, for it is home to Leonardo’s ‘The Last Supper’ mural, in addition to a plethora of design schools. These artsy crowds draw a very laid-back culture, as Milan’s streets are filled not with high fashion, but cafes and design stores selling a range of items from homeware essentials to bohemian furniture. In relation to my fashion concern, the locals’ staple items include jeans and a leather jacket. This, I could deal with. In the more central parts of Milan, the style of fashion is still simple, but oozes of elegance. How can one fault gentlemen in fitted suits?

Navigating through the underground train system is as easy as learning your 1x multiplication timetable. We bought a 2-day train pass (about 8 euro, AU$12) which was both convenient and cheaper than buying a single 90-minute pass (1.50 euro).

Though it’s a frequent sight to see homeless citizens walk up and down the train platforms, as well as standing on the street begging for spare coins, I’ve found all areas of Milan, during both day and night, to be safe. And the people! The Milanese people are polite, friendly and soft spoken – in comparison to its other Italian counterparts. Also, all retail and hospitality store employees speak fluent English – bonus!

Yes, Milan is home to the world’s first Prada store built in the 19-somethings, and has a street with more luxury brand names in one place that I could even begin to list. Though when you really get into the depth of the city and what it has to offer, it’s really about art*, creativity, and drinking 6 espressos a day.IMG_4772

*It was purely coincidental that we were here during #DesignWeek, but the city is artistic even without its showcases and exhibitions.

Must sees:

  • The Last Supper: you get 15 minutes in front of the magnificent artwork (I guarantee it won’t be a disappointment in size if you’ve been previously scarred by the Mona Lisa) with an English tour guide costing us 25 euro each. Must prebook in advance. The 15 minute experience doesn’t come cheap, but worth it.
  • Milan Duomo: If you have a weakness for gothic architecture like me, you will melt at the sight of the Duomo. Free to admire, or 11 euro to enter the cathedral and climb up the stairs to the rooftop for a view of the Milan skyline.  IMG_4738IMG_4805
  • San Maurizio Al Monastero Maggiore: Half public monastery, half nun house. Lots of paintings artwork to admire and the best thing is it’s free!
  • Navigli canals: Alongside the main canal, there are rows and rows of restaurants that serve “Aperitivo” (i.e. happy hour) between 6-10pm. For 8-10 euros, you receive 1 drink of your choosing (spirits, cocktails, wine) and a food buffet. The area is packed every day of the week, and all the restaurants seem to offer the same thing but if you choose a seat on the outside facing the canal and watch the sun go down whilst feasting, you can’t really go wrong.

Lastly, thanks to my boo AY for being the best travel companion (when not on the phone, ha), and an impeccable selfie-taker. Because if no selfie, you weren’t really there, right?

 

 

Mel-Ldn

Overwhelming. The one word I used to describe my first week to all those who asked. On 3 April I made the semi-permanent move from Melbourne to London with AY. Thankfully, and with so much gratitude she decided for her own reasons to make the move with me, as difficult as it would have been for her to leave her boyfriend behind and venture into a LDR for the first time. So, all in all, there were a lot of firsts for us in a very short period of time.

The 24-hour journey door to door with Qatar, including a 1 hour stopover, was uneventful in itself – though I’d claim me sleeping almost the whole of the way is a testament to how good the airline is. Or, alternatively, how spent I was after four weeks of hectic funemployment. I will leave this up to interpretation.

We managed to find our way to our Airbnb space in West London, and I say ‘space‘ because that’s exactly what it was – a cubicle, if you wish. As most 20-somethings would, we tried immediately to connect to the wifi. But alas, it was not working and was not functional for the rest of our stay there. This was the second of our woes. The first, being not able to open our suitcases at the same time because the space was really that small.

In that week, we attended 6 interviews with recruitment agencies, circa 12 apartment inspections, 1 bank appointment, post office appointment and accounting firm appointment. We got lost finding our way to the aforementioned places about 400 times. By the end of the week, we ended up with 6 job proposals, each of which were not relevant to our experience, interests or suitable with timing, 2 tickets to a music festival, 1 company (hello, JKP Enterprises (UK) Limited!), a UK bank account and resident permit/ID. Overall, still jobless and homeless. Hashtag priorities.

One thing people don’t tell you, or me rather, about moving across the world is the concept of ‘familiarity’. London, being the huge city that it is, expands the notion of unfamiliarity by tenfold. Unlike home, there are no faces or places that are familiar and it’s at that point where one knows they’ve crossed the infamous comfort zone border and homesickness begins to creep in like an unwanted ominous cloud of fog. Why did I choose to leave my support network of friends and family back home?! Fortunately, later in the week both of us respectively caught up with friends from Melbourne that have made a home in London, and I can confirm that it does wonders to your mental wellbeing.

We ran away to holiday in Europe after our first week in London (pre planned, I promise), but I honestly am looking forward to going back and immersing myself into life, routine and the culture there. We were introduced to a cafe that serves good coffee but are on a mission to find many more of Melbournian standard, and I’ve been to visit 2 mma gyms which I hope to do trials at before I choose my second home.

Yes, we are just getting started!

But always missing those back home.

JP x