We started our grand tour in Milan where the weather wasn’t great to start our week. The main sight to see in Milan has to be the huge and ornate Duomo and the Galleria next to it is really pretty too. There were a few street sellers in the square and one guy tried to hand me some corn which I politely refused and was pretty confused as to why he would offer me a handful of loose corn…anyway all made sense when I saw the trick people were doing to get pigeons to fly up and eat from their hands for a photo. I’ll be honest, I was quite happy with the photo I got of someone else being attacked by pigeons and so didn’t feel the need to partake myself…
13/06/2015: Risotto Milanese – Ristorante Sabatini, Milan
This restaurant had a classy but still relaxed vibe with smartly dressed staff and classic decor, but with the odd Vespa on display! We had to try Risotto Milanese at some point during our stay in Milan, so why not the first night?! Risotto Milanese is prepared with bone marrow and saffron, which gives it its distinctive flavour and bright yellow colour. I thoroughly enjoyed this!
14/06/2015: Obica mozzarella – Obica, Milan
Our director at work had told me about this place at the top of a department store in Milan that specialises in mozzarella, so as soon as I knew we were coming to Milan I knew where one of our dinners would be. We both chose our mozzarella and then had a couple of plates of accompaniments like cured meats and tomatoes. The tomatoes were so sweet and juicy and absolutely delicious! I went for the classic mozzarella and Mark went for the stronger tasting one and we shared them. The classic cheese was a really flavoursome version of the milder mozzarella we are used to over in the UK, but the intense cheese was completely different and quite an intense flavour. I really enjoyed both and would really struggle to choose which I preferred between two very distinctive mozzarellas.
Part of our reason for doing this Italy trip and coming to Milan this year was the Milan Expo. I don’t know how I actually heard about it as I’m not sure how widely it has been publicised in the UK, but as soon as I did I knew I really wanted to go. The Expo was huge! Each country had a “Pavilion” that they designed and was a showcase of their culture, and in particular their food. There was no way that we could have time for all of the pavilions so we had to choose wisely! The Chinese pavilion had lots of coloured lights representing rice fields, the Korean pavilion had a robot talking to us about nutrition and waste, the Vietnamese pavilion was impressively decorated with bamboo tree sculptures, the Austrian pavilion was celebrating their clean air, and the UK pavilion was celebrating nature, particularly the honey bee, with a huge wire sculpture that you could walk up inside. We were snacking throughout the day on weird and wonderful world foods including a sticky fried rice stick and papaya salad from the Laos pavilion, coffee from the Kenyan pavilion, and some incredible chocolate gelato from the Pernigotti stand in the chocolate “Cluster” of pavilions. The top scoop is amazingly rich Ghana chocolate gelato, but the bottom scoop wasn’t ice-cream, it was called Cremino and was more like a soft fudge – YUM! We also had to go and look around the Nutella “Concept Bar” which I think my sister would lose her MIND in!
15/06/2015: Hot and sour rice noodles
We had a bit more of a substantial dish at the Chinese pavilion which was advertised as hot and sour rice noodles. Mark and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into! It was nothing like any Chinese food I’ve eaten before but the flavour was so interesting and had a really strange effect on our taste buds. The noodles were indeed hot – really spicy! Like our taste buds were being sizzled right off! They were also sour as if perhaps the broth had been made with tamarind or something similar – with no sweetness like you would expect from Asian food. That combination of sourness and serious spice just messed with our mouths! Both of us had to sit there with our mouths hanging open just taking the whole sensation in. So weird.
Desenzano del Garda
After the hustle and bustle of Milan and plenty of walking and sightseeing, we got our Fiat Cinquecento and headed east over to Desenzano on the south shore of Lake Garda for a bit of R&R. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best and there were rumblings of a oncoming storm most of the day which scuppered our plans of relaxing in the sunshine by the lake. The view was still priceless and it was quite magical being outside watching the clouds over the mountains and hearing the gradual approach of rumbling thunder. I’m glad we had a break in our journey here as Desenzano itself is a very pretty little town and the lake is closer to the mountains.
16/06/2015: Lake fish grill – Hostaria Porto Vecchio, Desenzano del Garda
This was arguably one of the best meals we had in Italy. The restaurant is in the square by the “little harbour” just off the lake-front and they had a lot of local lake fish on the menu which is what we were looking for. We both ordered a pasta dish as we were fairly hungry, followed by their lake fish platter consisting of freshly caught fish from the lake including trout and perch. The waiter also recommended a lovely delicate white wine to complement the subtle flavours of the lake fish which was a really special touch. The heavens opened with some force just as we were finishing dinner and we were sitting out under gazebos but it was hilarious! After the rain had settled down we went out in search of some gelato…
I was really struck by Verona as you don’t hear a lot of people coming here compared with Venice or Milan. It was such a lovely town and loads of great sights to see. I didn’t see much of Verona that wasn’t really pretty! The Piazza Brà is a beautiful area around a huge Roman arena surrounded by a row of restaurants and lots of people out enjoying the city. We also saw Verona’s designated “Juliet’s balcony”.
We had seen a lot of people with this mystery orange drink so we thought we’d ask one of our waiters what it was and were told it is Aperol Spritz, an aperitivo made with Aperol, Prosecco, and soda. I was hooked as soon as I tried it! Now I’m seeing it cropping up on drinks menus around London which is really exciting!
17/06/2015: Spaghetti carbonara – Ristorante Caffe Vittorio Emanuele, Verona
I LOVE spaghetti carbonara and it hurts me a little bit that this is the only spaghetti carbonara dinner I’ll be having this year, but it just makes sense to have this while we’re in Italy! We sat outside this restaurant that fronts right on to the Piazza Brà and started off with an Aperol spritz. We sat with our drinks for a while enjoying watching the world go by before ordering our carbonara. It’s a simple dish so hard to go wrong, but it was yummy and the whole experience was really enjoyable.
Today we left Verona and drove to Padua on our way to Venice. Padua is very quaint with a lot of cute little cobbled streets with archways. The Basilicas were pretty special as were the statues surrounding the Piazza Prato della Valle. We didn’t quite make it to the botanic gardens before having to head back to the car because we hadn’t realised how close we were to them, but we definitely saw a lot today, including Galileo’s house!
Venice was the last stop on our tour and I can definitely recommend doing the tour in this order! The places just kept getting better and grander! I think a lot of people avoid coming to Venice because they hear it’s overpriced or really touristy, but there’s a reason people want to see it! The first thing that strikes you is the ways in which people get around. Waterbuses, water taxis, gondolas, and walking. No cars, no bikes, no skateboards or rollerblades. The emergency services, and all other services for that matter, have to find new ways of doing business. Then there’s just the huge amounts of beautiful buildings scattered all over the island. Our airbnb was near the Rialto bridge which was great as it was so central. We decided to take a gondola ride together as we were celebrating our engagement, so we got there early in the morning before there was too much traffic on the water, and took a quiet route too which was really nice and chilled. We also took a trip across to Murano where Venetian glass is traditionally made. We just missed Michelle Obama who had left the island just moments before we arrived and people were still at the waterbus station with their cameras. Mark and I enjoyed playing the find-the-most-expensive-glass-sculpture game – wonder what M’Obama was buying?!
Venice is the sort of place where you could really be unlucky with food. Venice has a pretty bad rep for tourist-trap restaurants with tourist menus and not really authentic food, so we were being pretty diligent about doing our research before venturing out. Venice isn’t all bad food! We found a few gems and our hard work definitely paid off.
18/06/2015 – Osteria alla Staffa, Venice
Lizi: Trio of Venetian cod
We found this restaurant in the Lonely Planet guide book and thought we’d give it a try. We were so lucky to get a seat in this small cosy restaurant and saw people be turned away after us. I chose the trio of Venetian cod not really knowing much about it, and the waiter was really helpful and explained how they prepare the cod and what to expect from the taste and checking with me that I was prepared for a stronger fish flavour. I told him it sounded ideal! He also helped us pick out a local wine based on our food choices which is always good because I haven’t got a lot of wine knowledge! The food was absolutely delicious and I would highly recommend this restaurant for the friendly staff, cosy Venetian atmosphere, and incredible food.
Mark: Turbot in a bag
First night in Venice and I had to try some of the local fish. The turbot was cooked in a bag with a good selection of vegetables and herbs and it did a great job in locking all the flavours. The turbot was so soft and succulent. Yum! Great restaurant.
19/06/2015 – 6342 A Le Tole, Venice
We had walked past this restaurant a few times and I’d been oggling at the display of spaghetti in the window every time so I was pretty excited to try the place out.
Lizi: Spaghetti Neri
I ordered the black pasta and I can’t remember exactly what it said on the menu, but anyway they didn’t have the same ingredients as the menu so I ended up with black pasta with prawns and asparagus which was delicious! There was a lot of it too! This place also seemed really popular for pizza too.
Mark: Duck ragu fettucine
I’ve never tried duck ragu with pasta before so it didn’t take me long to choose this from the menu. The duck was delicious and went perfectly with the pasta, which was also great. It was a generous portion but I still wanted more! If only there were pasta restaurants like this around every street corner in London.
20/06/2015 – Ristorante Marco Polo, Venice
Lizi: Pizza with ham, olives and gorgonzola
This restaurant had some good reviews so we thought we’d try it out. Initially we were sat by the window which was open as it was hot, but people were smoking outside so we asked if we could move. The waitress found us a new table but didn’t seem all that happy about it which I objected to as we have every right to move if we’re uncomfortable being so close to incredibly unhealthy smoke. I wanted to try something that had gorgonzola in it as I hadn’t sampled any since being in Italy. I think it may have been a mistake to try gorgonzola on a pizza – I just don’t think blue cheeses work on pizza for me.
Mark: Quattro stagioni pizza
I decided to go for a pretty classic pizza combination that I probably would have had a few times already in a normal year! The cheese flavours were good and worked well with each other. The base was nice but the crust was a little tough.
21/06/2015: Cicchetti – Osteria Bancogiro, Venice
When researching places to eat in Venice, I kept coming across articles raving about cicchetti and how it’s a great, affordable way to eat out in Venice where otherwise prices can be pretty steep. Cicchetti are like Venetian tapas or big canapés and are usually served in “bàcari”. We had planned to try cicchetti on our last day in Venice which turned out to be a bit of an error as a lot of cicchetti bàcari aren’t open on a Sunday. If you’re going to do cicchetti and you want to really embrace the bustling atmosphere of it all, do it on a Saturday. I trawled the internet to try and find a place with good reviews that was also open and I landed on Osteria Bancogiro just across the Rialto bridge from our apartment. We stood at the bar, ordered a selection of the cicchetti and oggled at the huge selection of wines they had and all the restaurant award stickers on the door. In the end we weren’t hugely hungry so we didn’t eat a lot but it was fun to try and we’d definitely do it properly when (not if) we come back to Venice.