July 30, 2009

How we rolled in Rome...

How we got there...
The hip pocket stayed well intact with a €16 train ride from Florence.

Where we stayed...
M&J Hostel. Not the best hostel we've stayed at, but not the worst (that honour goes to our hostel in Nice, where the toilet and shower where in a ceiling-less cubicle in the room). It was a bit of a dump, but for €18.80 each a night (we got an early-bird discount), we really couldn't complain.

What we did...
Hmm, what didn't we do? There was the ancient Colosseum and Palantine Hill (which we lined up for about an hour to get into), the Spanish Steps (which were so much smaller than I thought they would be!), the gorgeous Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the insanely ornate St Peter's Basillica at the Vatican and about a billion other gorgeous buildings along the way.

We covered the entire city centre on foot, guzzling water from the many drinking fountains dotted around the place. With temperatures soaring to the low 40s, it was no easy feat. But day in and out we were back hitting the pavement, soaking up as much of Rome as we could.

Who we rolled with...
With the European backpacking set being much younger and immature than those we encountered in South America (think English and American college students on a two-week summer holiday) , we explored the city by ourselves. Though we did come across one of the wierdest people we have met to date, a 19-year-old English guy, in the kitchen of the hostel. He kind of stalked us a bit, does that count?

What we ate...
Pizza, pizza,pizza. The Best Meal in Rome Award goes to Baffetto for their tasty pizzas. Sure, you have to line up for about 30 minutes just to get a table, then, it's so full you have to share a table with strangers, the waiters are abrupt and you are basically kicked out before you have time to swallow your last bite, but you put up with it because it really is that good.

Our last two nights in Rome were spent there chowing down on our last Italian pizzas. The four cheeses was simply amazing. The sauce, the cheese, the base – everything was perfecto!

July 25, 2009

The feast continues in Florence...

There were curries and crisps in England, steaks in Argentina, fried chicken in Bolivia and tapas and paellas in Spain... With so much food content on this blog, you'd think we do nothing with our days but eat, eat, eat!

What can we say? We love our grub. In Italy, it's been nothing but a non-stop pizza and pasta fest – the quality of a pizza has the power to make or break any given day. So it's no wonder our time in Florence was dominated by copious amounts of cheeses, tomato sauces and carb-ridden bases.

The opportunity to try some home-cooked Italian food was a highlight of our three-days in Florence. On arrival at our family-run hostel, we were offered freshly cooked pasta for lunch – yummo! The fattening-up didn't stop there, each night the elderly Italian couple who ran the place would give us wine and cake, and on our last night there, they cooked up a giant dish of pasta for us all to share over a couple of glasses of red!

Wanting to fit in as much authentic Italian pizza and pasta in as we could, we made a beeline for Yellow Bar, where we ordered a spicy tomato pasta and a prosciutto pizza. It was nearly as yummy as our first Cinque Terre pizza – which means it was awesome. And it was decided that yes, we most definitely do love Italy in all its tomatoey richness.

For those of you who are sick of all this food talk (jealous much?), then feast your eyes on this...

That'd be a photo of Michelangelo's David (taken illegally by Craig). Truly a masterpiece, it even had Craig in awe. At 516cm tall, this statue is massive. It's also amazingly detailed and offers the chance to make various immature jokes directed at the statue's perfectly groomed pelvic region.

Amazing art and spectacular food – Florence really 'dished' up the goods.

July 20, 2009

To Cinque Terre, with love

Dear Cinque Terre,

How do we love thee? Let us count the ways...

First, you were the place were we tried our very first Italian pizza. Made with the freshest ingredients, we could not hold back our pure delight as we bit into every perfect mouthful. The cheese and pesto was our fave, and with silly grins on our faces, we tried to savour every single second of pizza perfection. I will never forget the moment I had the best bite of pizza in my life –it was about halfway through the meal when I took a bite from the tip of a slice, the olive oil had soaked perfectly into the base and the cheese/pesto/sauce ratio was at its optimum levels. I was in culinary heaven!

Then, you delivered one of the best days ever with the walk from Monterosso back to our base of Riomiaggore, passing through all five of your quaint, colourful towns. The day started with a swim and a wander through Monterosso, and then we took ten hours to hike the trail, stopping to take in the breathtaking views, swim in your clear, refreshing waters and, of course, eat pizza!

Finally, you were the destination where Craig had what he still maintains was his 'best meal ever' – better than a Merton 'combo' in Rozelle, better than lamb shanks at Sapori in Abbotsford, better than my famous nachos and better than a takeaway curry from Forest Tandoori in Lymington... For lunch one day we picked up some fresh tomatoes from a local grocer, bought some exxy locally-produced pesto and ate them on tostadas. This basic meal offered Craig a fresh-flavour explosion he couldn't get enough of! He ate 18 of them and would have eaten more if I hadn't stopped him. Deliciously simple.

So thank you, Cinque Terre, we had a wonderful three days exploring your shores, eating your produce and watching your sunsets.

Lisa and Craig xox

July 14, 2009

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Billionaires galore live there, Angelina Jolie shops there and it's a known Paris Hilton holiday spot...

It's time to whip that Lamborghini out of the garage, throw on those Gucci sunnies and get ready to flash your cash at the casino, 'cause this is Monaco, baby!

Basing ourselves in the dodgiest hostel in Nice may not quite fit in with the ritz and glitz of Monaco, but we had one day to go and sticky beak at the world's financial elite and this tiny country did not disappoint. Gigantic boats, flash cars, designer gear and the cleanest streets ever – no wonder it's the playground of the rich and famous.

While our celebrity status may not quite be up to par, we had a brilliant time in this beautiful part of the world. Check out the pics!

Signing-off in Spain

Our final Spanish fix came in the form of Barcelona, Spain's second largest city and, ironically, probably the most un-spanish city in the country.

With a palatial pad at our disposal – we were staying in student accommodation, complete with our own bathroom and kitchen – our time in Barcelona was chilled to say the least.

Most of our time was spent wandering up and down La Rambla, dodging dorky tourists and street performers while hunting for the perfect Barcelona magnet.

With the first test of the Ashes in play, a lot of our time was also spent frequenting the various Irish pubs of the city, drinking beer and cheering on Ricky Ponting and Co with all the other Aussies who were also in Barcelona. Side note: Is there anyone actually left in Australia? Or have all the bogans left our shores on a mass 'embarrass Australia' mission?

Having tasted tapas in Seville and Madrid and pinxtosed it up in San Sebastian, it was time for us to divulge in yet another Spanish cuisine – paella. A yummy rice dish filled with fresh seafood was just what the doctor ordered. For those of you who know me well, yes, I eat seafood now – travel has forced me to get out of my chicken-schnitzel comfort zone.

After doing a bit of net research, we decided to head to the waterside suburb of Barceloneta for our paella experience, and boy did we pick well. A delicious, gigantic dish of creamy rice filled with prawns, mussels and crab was at our eating disposal. We cleaned it up in record time (Craig put in a mighty effort) and decided that we officially loved Spanish food.

Having done not a whole lot of sightseeing, our last day was spent madly running around trying to fit in all the Gaudi architecture. The highlight being the Sagrada Familia (pic below left), which, despite building starting on it in 1882, is still not complete and probably won't be until at least 2026 – the downside of the Spanish siesta, I reckon.

After four cities and 14 days our time in Spain was up. Verdict: Totally rocked our socks.

July 13, 2009

Sunsets and sangria in San Sebastian

When we first started looking into San Sebastian accommodation, it was pure devastation. The cheapest beds we could find were €30 each in a crummy hostel. Waaay over our budget. We toyed with the idea of scrapping San Sebastian, until Craig 'Magic Touch' O'Shannessy stepped up to the keyboard.

We didn't know how it could possibly be so cheap, but the second it popped up on the computer screen we couldn't book it fast enough. A private room, complete with plasma TV and DVD player at San Sebastian's highest rated hostel... score!

It turns out that they forgot to change the rate over from low to high season prices: our luck was a changin'.

It says a lot about a place if the weather is crappy and we still fall in love with it. With the top temperature hovering around 21° and the sky drizzly and overcast, there was still no denying that San Sebastian really has it all – beaches, stunning architecture, cobbled streets, a small-town feel and, of course, there's the pinxtos.

The San Sebastian way of eating tapas (or as they call them, pinxtos) truly rocks. The formula is simple: cover your bar with delicious portions of an array of dishes (everything from seafood to chorizo sausage to vegetarian fare) and let your customers snack the night away while downing copious amounts of beer and sangria – genius!

We had a brilliant night hopping from one bar to another, indulging in the tiny treats and making sangria-induced plans to one day open up our very own tapas bar in Sydney.

Of all the places we have been in the world, San Sebastian is the one place we could see ourselves actually living in. And as the sun beat down on our last day there (just as we were about to catch our bus to Barcelona), we hoped that one day we would be back.

July 12, 2009

Blood and glitter

Ah, there's nothing like being back in Western civilisation! Clean streets, easy-to-navigate public transport and toilets that don't require you to hold your breath until pass-out point.

As much as we loved Morocco, we were more than ready for some serious cleanlinesss – enter Madrid.

Stepping off the plane was like stepping into a completely different stratosphere, things were just, well... easy. The ATM we used actually dispensed money, we found our pre-booked hostel easy peasy and we cooked up a yummy risotto as we were back to the land of supermarkets and self-catering facilities.

We hadn't heard anything particularly magical about Madrid, so we went in with no expectations, which is probably the best way to go into any destination.

Mardi Gras was in town, so one night after devouring some delicious tapas and downing some beer and wine, we inadvertently stumbled upon the main parade. It was glitter and hotpants galore as we followed the the party procession through the streets, sipping on gigantic sangrias. Once the revelry died down on the main drag, we headed back to our hostel, coming across an awesome drum band along the way, they had everyone dancing in the street and an en cour was demanded when they tried to finish up.

Our time wasn't all party hardy, it was also a sportsfest. First there was a tour of Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu stadium – the pitch was dug up and there was construction taking place for Ronaldo's big unveiling (bummer!) but the museum and trophy room were pretty cool. We'd missed way too much Wimbledon in Morocco to miss out on the men's final, so it was off to an Irish bar to cheer on Federer to his 15th Grand Slam title in a nail-biting match against Andy Roddick. They finished up just in the nick of time, as we had tickets to the bullfight that night and we were running out of time to get there.

The bullfight, while totally gory, was an awesome experience. The fanfare, the theatrics and the traditions made it an experience to remember. While the bull never stands a chance – it gets stabbed numerous times before the torro even starts the one-on-one fight – they are bloody tough buggers and don't give up until their very last breath.

With numb bums (concrete seats) we left the bullfight a tad early as we had an overnight bus to catch. Destination: San Sebastian.

July 08, 2009

Snake charmers, squat toilets and a daylight bank robbery...


After a three-hour bus ride and the most expensive ferry crossing in the world (€37 for just one hour on the water!) we were officially in Africa. Tangier was the first stop on our Moroccan journey. We hadn't heard spectacular things about the place, so we were staying for just one night and then jumping on a train to Fes first thing in the morning.

Our first mission was stock up on plenty of Moroccan dirhams. The first ATM we went to was out of service, so Craig popped his card in the next one along . Once he had punched in his pin and requested 530 dirhams, the machine took a painstakingly long time to process the transaction before a message reading 'Thank you for your transaction' appeared on the screen as his card was promptly spat out. All this is pretty standard procedure, as I'm sure you all know, but there is just one small element missing – the cash. No cash came out of the machine!

Being a Sunday, there was no-one around to help us, so we had no choice but to head off in search of accommodation. Already in bad moods, the last thing we needed was to be hounded by the touts at the entrance of the medina. Eventually, we found a crappy room for 110 dirhams ($AUD17), and set off to get some money. One of the touts who tried to find us accommodation offered to help us find an ATM, despite telling him several times that we were fine by ourselves and didn't want his help, he followed us around anyway, demanding 50 dirhams for his service when we eventually cashed up. Craig told him to 'f*** off!' and we headed straight for an internet cafe.

Logging on to our net banking, we were devastated to discover that the amount we had tried and failed to get from the first ATM had been deducted from Craig's account. Since it was the middle of the night in Australia there was nothing we could do about it right there and then. So we found a magnet, walked back to our hotel – which, by the way, had the grossest toilet and shared shower facilities ever. We decide that having a shower there would only make us dirtier, so that night we sufficed with baby wipes and plenty of deodorant!

Desperate to get away from Tangier and its money-thieving ATMs, we left our hotel early in the morning and jumped on the next train to Fes. The train was hot and stuffy, but it was fun to just sit back an watch the scenery glide by. A local guy talked to us the whole way about Australia (he has a friend in Melbourne) and doing tours of the medina in Fes. 'I just keep waiting for him to say, "Oh, my cousin's a tour guide..." I whispered to Craig. 'Nah, he's alright,' Craig reassured me. But sure enough, his nephew was apparently a 'very good tour guide' with 'excellent English' – those Moroccans never miss a bloody beat!

Once in Fes, Craig managed to haggle a room down from 150 to 110 dirhams a night – complete with a clean toilet and shower. We then hit the streets, making our way through the maze that is the medina (Islamic old town). As for dinner, we settled on eating in the dodgiest hole in the wall we could find. Kefta (a mince meat sausage thing) on bread rolls was the only item on the menu.

For the next couple of days our routine kinda went like this – wake up at around 9.30am, go out and buy a big hunk of half-pastry/half-pancake bread with chocolate spread smeared all over it for breakfast, hit the net cafe for a couple of hours, get lost in the windy streets of the medina, occasionally stopping to let a horse go by or to visit the tanneries (turns you off leather, it reeks!), go back to our room for a read and a kip, head back out at night to eat at a dodgy local haunt, followed by some more net time before bed.

Fes was pretty damn cool. It was totally out of this world, but after three nights, we were ready for a change of scenery.

Rabat was never in our original plans, but we decided to go there at the last minute since it was on the way to Casablanca. When we walked out of the train station we were surprised to discover wide, tree-lined boulevards and bakeries galore – a huge contrast from the smelly, dirty streets of Fes.

While Rabat was nice, there really wasn't a whole lot going on. We ate a lot of pastries and a lack of magnet options forced us to purchase the largest magnet of our collection, that's pretty much about it. I guess Rabat will forever be remembered as the place where we discovered Michael Jackson had died – we aren't totally out of the news loop!


Made famous by the old-school movie, we really had no idea what to expect of Casablanca. Like Rabat, it was a bit lacklustre – the medina had no character and neither did the streets.

One thing they don't put in the guidebooks is that the rudest man to ever walk the planet lives in Casablanca. It's true, and we had the pleasure of meeting him at our hotel – Hotel Foucauld.

Despite being promised hot water, there was none. At 12 noon I was told it would be fixed by 2pm. At 9pm that night, when there still wasn't any hot water, I went down to ask if it was going to be fixed that evening. 'You wait, you wait, you wait!' Mean Rude Guy full-on shouted at me while waving his hand in my face. As I was trying to explain that I simply wanted to know if it was going to be fixed that evening as I wanted to go to bed, he just turned around and started speaking to someone else.

Upset, I went and got Craig, thinking that maybe a male would get more of a response. All of a sudden Mean Rude Guy claimed not to speak any English, despite earlier evidence of the contrary.

Not wanting to give Mean Rude Guy any more of our hard-earned funds, we packed up the next morning and trotted off to find ourselves some nicer, cheaper accommodation with staff who responded to our questions with a suitable level of social etiquette.

MarrakechExotic, bazaar and overwhelming – Morocco really turned up the culture factor with Marrakech.

The heart of all things Marrakech revolves around the Djeema el Fna – the main square in the medina. By day, the sun beats down as snake charmers and monkey handlers try to drape their animals of choice over unaware tourists, scaring the crap out of some and forcing others to hand over some money for the privilege. By night, the square well and truly comes alive!

A plethora of food stalls are rolled out into the centre, as story tellers, drum players and henna artists fill every other remaining inch of the square. Each night, we would head out to watch the magnificent show unfold, stopping occasionally for a refreshing three-dirham orange juice, or to sit with the locals and chow down on some Moroccan culinary fare.

All we did in Marrakech was hit up the square at dusk, but we loved every single tantalising second of it. It was noisy, it was bustling and it was downright awesome, we couldn't get enough!