Month: January 2014

The Island

Once, many years back now, my family on my mothers side squatted on the Island of Malta for a couple of generations. Which, really, was our sole reason for traveling there.

Since that time, possibly only in the last few years, Malta has been trying to reinvent itself. It wants to be the cool hangout for the super (or at least moderately) rich. You can buy yourself citizenship (for just over 600k plus extras), and will be rewarded not only with a passport to the EU, but also rather pleasingly low tax rates.

The magazine on the airlines (Malta Airways of course) was all about pimpin’ the Island. Which came across as slightly desperate, and just a little bit tacky. Not what they were looking for at all. We were looking for this:

As my people (kind of) come from Malta, certain things have leaked into our fantastically Mongrel Aussie-hybrid customs.

Example 1: Mushy Pea Pies

Firstly, let me say that it is amazing to be in a country that understands the concept of a savoury pie. Here goes a standard conversation with a German about Aussie Meat pies:

                                                    Aussie: ‘So you have Meat pies…’
                                                    German: ‘Wait, mint pies?’
                                                    A: ‘No- meat.’
                                                    G: ‘Like, meat-meat?’
                                                    A: ‘Yup, Fleish. Meat’
                                                    G: ‘Meat?’
                                                    A: ‘Ge-nau/Exactly’
                                                    G: ‘Oh… *pause* … But they’re sweet right’
                                                    A: ‘No. They’re meat.’
                              and so on.

Secondly, let me say that my Grandfather loves a good mushy pea pie. And my whole life my sister and I have dutifully pulled the ‘ugghhh’ faces that young girls tend to pull, as he recounted the joy one could have in eating such a thing.

Granddad, I hope it makes you proud to hear that my very first cultural experience on the Island was:

It was tasty! Although I would suggest that their peas could be a bit ‘mushier’- they were almost dry. But oh what flavouring! What flake of pastry! What delight of price (90c can you believe it!).

Mum and Andy weren’t brave enough to try the peapie, but they got in on the savoury action in their own ways.

On our first day in Malta, which was really a half-day, we had a little roam, and Andy and I gazed longingly, sniffed pleasingly and sighed regretfully at the sea. Hello old friend, it’s been a while.

We also sniffed- slightly less pleasantly- at a little ‘duck village’. Home to ducks, but also chickens, cats, pigeons, and hundreds of stuffed toys.  Later during the stay we saw another of these ‘villages’, this time I think just for cats- so apparently giving toys to pets is just what the Maltese do.

The next day- the-day-before-the-night-before-christmas, was business as usual as far as the beautiful blues go.

 Andy assured me that this is a toy cat, and not a real cat:

The two of us went for a walk, while mother headed straight for Valletta- the capital, which consists of a beautiful old city that you can see to the right in this photo:

We met up with Mother in Valletta, who had rather cleverly gotten her hands on some sort of Kahk-like thing.

For those of you playing at home, Kahk is a kind of traditional cookie my people make for special occasions. Usually only at Christmas and Easter because they are a pain in the bum to make.

The concept itself is simple- mashed dates (with butter and maybe some rum) inside a shortbread crust all shaped like a tiny donut (much smaller than the one shown below). The actual practice of getting the dates into the darn dough, is something very much more complicated indeed. Especially in Aussie weather.

Unfortunately, this version was not nearly as good as ours- it was very heavily spiced- tasting like old nutmeg and orange flower stems (barky and flowery), and was super dry inside.

One of the lovely things about Malta- or at least the parts we were in- is the presence of all decorative doorknobs and little icons that you see all around.

We spent a decent amount of time at the Barrakka gardens, which affords a magnificent view of the three cities and surroundings, which look particularly spectacular at sunset. Also, it has kitties!

We rode back to the city…

Here is a Maltese Christmas trees. A lack of tree and an excess of glass (made in Mdina)- all rather pretty with the lights and the swirly colours.

As a Christmas gift, my aunt and uncle treated us to a spot of fine dining. We started with a Maltese tasting plate, which featured some pretty fine Gozo goat cheese.

Afterwhich, mother indulged in an absolutely bulging-with-seafood risotto, and Andy and I both went with a freshly grilled catch of the day. After over a year in Porkland, this fish was the most delicious, succulent, tasty and juicy thing we had ever laid our hands on.

This, my friends, is Andy’s ‘Fish Satisfaction’ face.

Vatican C.

On our final day in Rome, we visited the Vatican.

We didn’t prebook tickets (which I hear you can do online), so it took us about 40 minutes to get inside. Which was not too upsetting- Andy read, I pretended I was a dinosaur who like to eat fruit- and was much less time than promised to us by the assorted men trying to sell us overpriced guided tours (‘2 hours’).

 We spent a bit of time flouncing around the courtyard. It was pretty cold:

So we headed into the museum. First stop- slightly creepy creepy room filled with heads and busts:

My sister was really into Greek myths when she was younger. Ella chose Artemis- the hunter goddess, as her goddess, a slightly odd choice for one who has possibly not owned a flat shoe (and definitely not taken to running) since forced to do so in high school. My goddess was Athena- goddess of wisdom, and goddess of war (she had a temper that I respected and could identify with).

We’re practically the same person:

Although I am concerned that my nose might be a little less Greek and a little more Roman. Don’t tell my sister.

Mr Ed:

Sometimes when I go into a grand church I feel conflicted between the awe and the amazement of it all, and the feeling of injustice: the feeling that people were starving in the streets while the Church took their wealth to make a palace.

I’m not so religious, but I especially can’t believe in a God who would demand such excess of his people over true faith and love and kindness. When I look at the Dalis and Van Gough and so on, there’s always a voice wondering by what means these works were acquired.

It’s the same feeling I get when going into something like the British Museum- wonder at the works, but even more wonder at the gall of a country so boldly showing off the history they’ve stolen from a people whom they subjugated.

But anyway, on with the pretties:

This one I kind of love for it’s Blatant Symbolism. It’s a fake god (pagan) crumbling under the truth of Jesus. I can practically see my year 12 English teacher’s eyes rolling in their sockets at how over the top it all is.

Andy liked this little dude:

And also liked being Tall.

For some reason, I look less amused by the concept.

 Probably the best photo of the day:

Yes, those are testicles she is carrying around her personage.

Obviously this is also pretty good:

And now for something a bit modern. A Van Gogh that seems almost sacrilegious in its depiction of a slighly blobby Holy mother….

…a tiny fat little popeling running through the woods…

… and this tipsy little fellow…

Since Calder, I pretty much love anything that plays with shadows and light. I also appreciate the ‘noodle-y-ness of the Jesus figure here’.

This one, I would very much like for my apartment.

Mary looking much like Wendsday Adams, and Baby Jesus looking very put out by that fact:

‘Four Generations’

And of course Andy’s favourite (although I think the Vatican would be disappointed that he’s in it for the demon, not for the Pope):

We finally barged our way through the crowds and made it to the Sistine Chapel, where we experienced the beauty of sharing a sacred site with 800 other people, while being constantly shouted at by angry Italian guards ‘NO PHOTO NO VIDEO SILENCE!!’. At one point we saw a guard actually walk up to someone who had broken one of the rules, shout a bit more, and make him leave.

We broke the rules anyway, we’re just wild that way.

After leaving the packing shed, we had pretty much finished our Vatican Museum experience.

We had a quick look in the Basilica, and Andy, who is braver than me, went and checked out the roof:

I sat and waited, and laughed at the poor Swiss guards who had to deal with Idiot Tourists thinking that their job involved directions to the nearest train station. You might be able to make out the guard in the background actively rolling his eyes:

 Ah lolipop guards, you’ll always be my favourite thing about the Vatican C.

Viva R.

Sometimes, when I start writing this blog, it feels like coming to confession. Not that I’ve ever, to my knowledge, been to confession, but because they always start it (in the TV shows and movies) with ‘it’s been six weeks since my last confession’

So. ‘It’s been four weeks since my last (Roman) holiday’.

Rome day 3 started in the Piazza del Popolo, and with honest intentions to get a bit of culture into ourselves by visiting museums, art galleries and the like. But the sun swayed our souls, and we ended up swanning through the streets, marching through marketplaces, and checking out cats. Plus there was some magnificent fence leaping thrown in there.

There was supposed to be a market ‘just around the corner’ from the Piazza, but of course, we couldn’t find it.

So we wandered the lands instead:

The wandering of course involved some eating and posing. The icecream was of the ‘ok but not fabulous’ variety, which means I’m not entirely sure what the top flavour I’m chowing down on is. Possibly chestnut?

Ah Lindt, you are my favourite (please start selling the raspberry ganache dark chocolate in Kaufland!)

I feel like the day began with a lack of breakfast- so we were grateful to stumble upon this great Japanese place, which had amazing sushi (for me), and ‘the best udon ever’ for Andy. Sadly, they had run out of Gyoza. Get your act together Japanese Restaurant. 

Tuna and Sesame. It is possible that the world of taste sensations does not get better than this. Is toasted sesame the best flavour ever? Does it make bread pop and sushi scream? Why yes, yes it does (It also goes really well with broccoli, the best of all the vegetables: I need to buy me some sesame oil!)

At a certain point, Andy demanded a return to his one true love.

He had some sort of story about ‘wanting to see the sunlight streaming through the hole. I knew he just wanted to gaze upon that magnificent structure once more.

Being the best girlfriend ever, I accompanied him, on the one condition that he pose like an elephant after the visit:

We headed to a marketplace in another Piazza (Navona) which I remember rather happily from time spent chowing into a Ciambella back in ’09.

Now, sadly, I was too full, and too lacking of my Ashlee, to recreate the moment.

We stumbled upon some Roman Ruins (when in Rome). I feel fairly confident in stating that this is the place where Julius was violently stabbed to death. It is now haunted by hundreds (probably ’10s’ to be super literal about it) of cats.

I always think that nothing brings out the ruins quite like a cat feature:

There was more meandering, and more eating (of a particularly disappointing canoli- should’ve waited until Sicily).

We made it to the massive markets at Porta Portese, but unfortunately they were all closing up. It make for a pretty interesting scene though…

Andy navigated us into a corner, and we had to make a daring escape over and out:

What’s that, more food?

My calzone was a bit disappointing, but at least Andy let me play with his food.

In writing this post, it has suddenly become blatantly clear how I managed to gain weight on the trip despite all the walking!

Happy Roman Evening Friends

New Year, New Blogging Resolution. We’re 9 days in and it’s not looking great eh? This last week has been filled with the type of exhaustion that can only come from coming back to work after getting a little bit too used to holiday life.

Luckily, we’ve been pleasantly surprised on return to The Deutschland to find that Autumn is lingering (which frankly seems deserved after it stubbornly refused to get into Spring for so long last year), and the weather is hovering at a rather pleasant 10 degrees.

But shall we travel back to Rome anyway?

After the trials of the colosseum, the Man and I needed some meat. And what better place to eat said meat, than at Ducati? (which after a quick google I can very confidently say ‘is a company that sells motorbikes’).

We both opted for beef burgers, because a) there is no beef in Deutschland and b) Germany burgers tend to be ‘American style’. Oh yeah, and c) mine came with blue cheese!

I had such high expectations, I mean, just look at this:

But I’m afraid to say that I was let down once again. The bread was soft and fluffy, but in a super-sweet ‘boiled bread’ sort of way (and I’m a ciabatta kinda girl myself), and the patty itself was overthick, but also spongy, and not particularly flavoursome.

Here is Andy’s ‘burger assessment face’. It is not going well.

 I also bought an interesting sounding drink with mint and citrus. ‘Hmm refreshing’, I thought. ‘mmm, like toothpaste mixed with sprite’, I soon realised´╗┐.

Would like like some kitten to cleanse the palate?

In the afternoon we wandered along the river on our way to meet Mother. We were late, but as you can see, this is clearly the fault of the stunning views that we met along the way:

We headed into this squat little building, once the tallest building, once a refuge for the popes, and the once and future Castle Sant’Angelo.

The castle is technically a museum now, and it does have a couple of rooms with historical ‘stuff’ in it, which may be of more interest to people who dig Roman history. 

Where you’re really getting your value for money, however, is the view from the roof.
First off: a view of people out the front selling stuff. When we were at the Colosseum, Andy managed to completely confuse on of the young men trying to wrap me in a pashmina (and thus sell it to me) by offering him some biscotti in return.
The man looked at the biscotti, looked at Andy, looked at the biscotti again, and then grabbed it and ran into a corner to eat it, much like a frightened kitten.
These people were less persistent, so we were not forced to bring out the biscotti.

 And now for something completely stunning.

Check out the Vatican and St Peter’s glowing happily in the distance.
 (I should note that these beauties were taken by Andy)

We spent a lot of time gazing, and then a bit more time roaming around the castle itself. All in all we decided it was nice, especially with the moat feature, but probably not ideal as an ultimate defense come the Zombie Apocalypse (I read World War Z twice in the last 6 months, and we’re watching Walking Dead, so we spent pretty much the whole trip bringing up the ‘Zed Issue’. Mother was Not Amused). Despite its failure to please on this account, the castle does have a nice round spirally bit where you can do silly things:

 Normal Tegan

 Headless Tegan

Tegan has arms!

Happy Roman Evening Friends!