Travel

Remembering Malta’s Azure Window

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A week ago today, Malta’s world-famous Azure Window collapsed into the sea. This sad event has left the Maltese (and everyone that was lucky enough to see the landmark in person) truly heartbroken. The Window was formed by erosion over 500 years ago and has been growing steadily larger with passing time.

It seems that its collapse was inevitable and one heavy storm was enough to complete destroy it. We were able to catch the sunset at the Azure Window when we visited Malta back in January.

It’s hard to believe that something so massive has been completely swallowed up by the sea and that there’s now barely any indication the iconic landmark was ever even there. Although the Azure Window no longer exists, I would still encourage anyone who visits Malta to make a trip to the now “Azure Pinnacle” or “Azure Stack”. It’s a magical spot by the sea, which I think is greatly captured by Evan’s time-lapse below.

 

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My Sardinian Food Diary

Friday

Lunch (meat and cheese plate with olives and traditional Sardinian bread)

Our first meal in Cagliari was at Ellusu, a casual lunch spot offering us exactly what we were in search for at the time: reasonably-priced Sardinian food and a table in the sun. Thanks to their charming menu, it was here that we learned how to count to five in Sardinian.

Dinner (swordfish carpaccio, calamari and fried sardines, seafood couscous in spicy tomato soup)

Fork is the less expensive restaurant of Chef Stefano Deidda, who also owns the one star Michelin restaurant Dal Corsaro right next door. We had a very impressive dinner here but the swordfish carpaccio and our friend’s seafood risotto were definitely the stars of the meal.

Saturday

Breakfast (cappuccino)

I admittedly ate way too much during this trip so I consistently woke up every morning still feeling full from the night before. Most mornings, I just opted for a cappuccino and had my first (very large) meal of the day at lunch.

Lunch (Sardinian cheese plate, seafood linguine)

My favorite part of our lunch at Sa Schironada was the cheese plate, which was placed on top of several layers of Sardinian bread – a type of flat bread with a cracker-like texture. The place had an enjoyable atmosphere and it was fun to watch the cooks at work in the nearby kitchen, however, this was one of the more touristy restaurants we went to during our stay.

Dinner (lobster ravioli)

Still content from lunch and much to our waiter’s disapproval, I chose to only have lobster ravioli rather than both a primi and secondi. We were placed in an extremely quiet dining room (at 8:30 pm we were still really early for dinner) but by the time we were nearly finished with our meal locals began filing in and strangely, the sound of American country music filled the restaurant.

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Sunday

Lunch (mozarella panzerotti)

An on-the-go bite for lunch from one of the cafes along Poetto Beach. A panzerotti is basically a fried pizza turnover: satisfyingly greasy and the perfect fuel to get one through a moderately easy hike.

Dinner (seafood salad and calamari, traditional carbonara, bites of assorted desserts)

Our last meal in Cagliari was at my favorite restaurant of the whole weekend: Crackers. Despite the name, the place has an old fashioned atmosphere complete with white linen tablecloths, nicely dressed waiters, and meals brought to the table on rolling carts. The ever-smiling Roberto and his wife took great care of us and their radicchio with thinly sliced octopus salad blew me away. A great end to our food-filled weekend.

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Hiking to the Punic Roman Temple

 

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All three of us were in awe when we rounded the bend and were greeted by this sight

On our last full day in Cagliari, we decided to be more active and try to work off several seafood pasta meals. We began our efforts by climbing to the top of the Torre dell’Elefante, a 31-meter tall limestone tower that was built in 1307.

Perhaps one of the more grotesque details of the tower is that several decaying heads of prisoners were once displayed over its door. Luckily, heads no longer decorate the Torre dell’Elefante but it does offer an incredible view of the entire city.

Our next adventure involved hiking the scenic seaside trail to the Torre del Poetto and the Tempio Punico but I don’t think we were expecting it to be quite so difficult to find the trailhead.

We had to take a bus to Poetto Beach but thanks to a broken ticket machine (of course, there was only one in the whole bus station) and a large crowd of beach-bound teenagers, it took us almost an hour to finally get on the bus.

We were then dropped off at the wrong stop so in order to find the trail, we ended up walking more than double the length of the entire trail. While I was definitely cranky throughout our search for the trail due to my poor choice of shoes (I don’t recommend hiking over rocky terrain in Keds), once we began climbing the hill I found that the views were more than worthy of an extra blister or two.

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Spring in full bloom
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Overlooking the Torre del Poetto while Evan set up his Go-Pro
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The Tempio Punico Romano – built between the 3rd and 2nd century BC!
Italian Culture · Photography · Travel

Escape to the Cagliari Sun

 

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View from the top of Torre dell’Elefante

This past weekend we escaped the dreary, rainy weather of Bologna for the sun-baked streets of Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital city. Although it was my first time visiting, there were several aspects of the city that felt familiar to me.

Its picturesque beaches remind me of Greece, its winding alleys and colorful, ancient buildings make me think of Valletta, and its funny (and oftentimes frustratingly slow) way of doing things is consistent with mainland Italy.

Besides Cagliari’s top-notch seafood, one of my favorite parts of the city was its Castello neighborhood. It’s located at the top of the city center’s tallest hill (so. many. stairs.) and offers impressive views of the distant mountains, nearby port, and sea.

Although strong winds kept us from spending the entire weekend on the beach as planned, I wasn’t too upset since Cagliari felt like an old friend: comfortable, inviting, and charming.

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One of the roads leading up to the Castello neighborhood
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Cagliari’s cheery buildings add to a perfect beach vacation atmosphere
Bologna · Travel

Bologna Birra Crawl

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Before moving to Bologna I lived in Denver, Colorado and I got spoiled. Colorado consistently tops the charts for the number of breweries and microbreweries per capita so checking out a new brewery was a pretty common activity.

In contrast, Italy is better known for its wine than its beer and most non-Italians aren’t able to name an Italian beer that isn’t Moretti or Peroni. Despite its reputation, there is actually a wide selection of different bars offering up craft beer from within the country and abroad. Here are some of my favorites:

Birra Cerqua: This tiny place is the only brewpub in Bologna. I’m partial to it since it reminds me of Denver with all the brewing vats behind the counter. Some of their beers even use local hops!

Il Cucchiaio D’Oro: Located in the heart of the university area, you’ll be sure to find at least a couple Johns Hopkins grad students here every Thursday, Friday, Saturday (really every) night. Plus, they offer a great deal of three beers for only €10.

Il Punto: Offering up eight beers on tap and almost 100 different bottles that are mostly Italian, Il Punto has a charmingly hipster vibe. I love its cafe-bar atmosphere that makes it equally acceptable to either settle down for a while with your laptop and espresso or enjoy a couple beers with friends.

Zapap: The local brewery opened a taproom on Via del Pratello a little over a year ago (and recently opened a second location near the university area). Along with its own brews, it serves up other craft beers and tasty, decently-priced pizza.

~~~Bonus! ~~~ Bar Senza Nome:  Although this bar doesn’t boast a particularly impressive selection of beer, it is still one of my favorite places to grab a drink. It’s entirely owned and operated by people that are deaf but don’t worry, they’re really good at reading lips. If you want to test out your sign language, be warned that ASL is completely different from LIS (Italian Sign Language). 

Photography · Travel

In Fair Verona…

 

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Verona’s Roman Arena was built in 30 AD and could hold up to 30,000 people

I’ll be honest, the main reason why I wanted to visit Verona was to see Juliet’s balcony and to get swept away to Shakespeare land but turns out, it was the rest of Verona that captured me in the end.

For starters, Verona’s Roman Arena is way better preserved than the colosseum in Rome and I hear it hosts incredible open-air opera concerts in the summer. Also, it’s hard to beat the feeling of walking on the old Roman theater on San Pietro’s Hill, which was built in the first century!

Of course, one of my favorite parts of the day was lunch where I had the best risotto I’ve ever had at Hosteria La Vecchia Fontanina. We feasted on a bargain-priced lunch (complete with appetizer, entree, wine, and espresso) in a room full of business people that didn’t seem in any kind of rush to get back to the office.

Verona is known as one of the world’s most romantic cities and while Juliet’s balcony turned out to be a little too touristy for me, all the other little details of the city completely won me over.

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Verona’s skyline is dominated by the Torre di Lamberti, which was built in 1172
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View from the Museo Archeologico al Teatro Romano
Travel

My Italian Travel Wish List

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-51-24-pmI’ve been living in Italy for about six months now and while we’ve been able to explore a TON of Italian cities, there are quite a few destinations that are still on my wish list. I’ll only be in Italy for three more months so I don’t think I’ll be able to visit all ten of the places listed below (but that’s not going to stop me from trying).

  1. Naples
  2. Modena (the home of balsamic vinegar and only a 20-minute train ride from Bologna – can’t believe I haven’t been yet!)
  3. Capri
  4. Lake Como
  5. Palermo (and the rest of Sicily)
  6. Bagni San Filippo (gorgeous outdoor hot springs in Tuscany)
  7. Amalfi Coast
  8.  Siena
  9. Bari
  10. Lucca

Image via discover.planet

Travel

A Viennese Ball

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I think this room needs a few more chandeliers…

We were lucky enough to attend the 2017 IAEA Staff Association Ball at the Hofburg Palace, which was without a doubt the most amazing event I’ve ever been to. There were eight floors, over 3,500 guests, and 30+ different ballrooms and lounge areas.

To give you an idea of just how massive this event was: Evan and I got separated shortly after entering the palace and despite being in contact through text message, it took us nearly an hour to find each other again. Turns out there was more than one coat-check and grand staircase to meet at!

Throughout the night we explored various ballrooms, witnessed a Viennese acrobatic show, checked out some seriously expensive cars, and even tested our Viennese waltz skills (unfortunately, we’re still not very good).

We weren’t able to make it to every ballroom but they all had different themes like the traditional Viennese waltz room with an orchestra, the Latin room with a full band, the pop room with a DJ, and the silent disco room where it was relatively silent but everyone was dancing to music coming from their headphones.

It was one of those nights where we had no concept of time until it was suddenly 4:00 am and we had to make our way through this giant maze of a palace to the correct coat-check and then finally to our Airbnb. To put it simply, it was a night I’ll always remember.

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All dressed up with my date
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The main ballroom
Culture · Photography · Travel

Long Weekend in Vienna

 

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In front of the Austrian Parliament Building. We went on a great 2-hour tour of the city led by one of Evan’s Austrian classmates.

We headed to Vienna with Evan’s classmates in early February to attend our first ever ball (more on that in the next post)! It was a weekend of firsts since I also took my first night train in order to get there. We purchased two seats but since the train was fairly empty, we were upgraded to a sleeper cabin.

I was a little taken aback when we opened our cabin door and there were two strangers already asleep in there so we tried to locate the bar car to try and kill a couple hours. We were intercepted by a ticket inspector, who took our tickets and informed us that while there wasn’t a bar cart, we could hang out in the next car over until 3am.

On our way to the next car (not even a full minute later) we cross a different ticket inspector, angrily asking for our tickets and telling us to go back to our cabin. After a tiny freak-out thinking we were about to get kicked off the train, we were able to explain the situation and he let us through. (Not sure what the big deal was since the entire next car was completely desolate.)

After snacking and getting properly sleepy, we headed back to our cabin and I actually had no problem falling asleep. The gentle rocking of the train was incredibly calming and the only times I did wake up was when we stopped to pick up more passengers.

When morning came, the first ticket inspector we ran into gave us back our tickets, along with a traditional Austrian breakfast – bread rolls with butter and jam (and coffee, of course). Over breakfast, we chatted with our cabin mates and found out that they are both students in Austria, coming back from a little vacation in Rome.

They were so kind and one of them, George, even made sure that we made it onto the right metro once we arrived in the city. It was a whirlwind of a trip but here are a few snapshots of stunning Vienna.

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The detail on the majority of buildings in Vienna was impressive
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Hofburg Palace – where the ball was held
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The iconic roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Food · Restaurants · Travel

My Maltese Food Diary

Saturday

Breakfast:

No visit to Valletta is complete without a trip to the famous Caffe Cordina, which first opened its doors over 175 years ago. We went with two traditional Maltese sweets: a kannol  rikotta (basically their less sweet version of an Italian cannoli) and a honey ring (made with treacle, marmalade, orange peel, spices, and honey). Both were delicious and combined with the fact that it was warm enough to eat outside in the sunshine, made this a great start to our day.

Lunch:

Located in the same palazzo as Caffe Cordina is Eddie’s Cafe. I ordered the Maltese dips, which included galletti (traditional Maltese crackers), gbejniet (Maltese cheese), bigilla (mashed beans), fazola, capunata tomatoes, Maltese sausage, olives, tuna, gardiniera (pickled vegetables), and capers. It was fun to taste a bunch of Maltese specialties all at once, especially while listening to the peculiar sound of Maltese as a group of older women chatted a few tables over from us.

Dinner:

Unfortunately, the restaurant I was planning to take us to for dinner was closed for the entire month of January. We ran into this issue quite a few times since Malta is such a seasonal destination. Despite this tiny hiccup, we were seated at Tico Tico, where I enjoyed some fresh, salmon-stuffed tortelloni.

Sunday

Breakfast:

Sunday was the day we went on our (very long) journey to Gozo so we grabbed a quick bite at the cafe right around the corner from our Airbnb. Still very full from the night before, we split a Maltese pastizzi, a pastry filled with ricotta. The cafe was definitely a local spot, with almost everyone speaking Maltese.

Lunch:

Ta’Rikardu, located in Victoria on the island of Gozo, was the perfect spot to get a little afternoon pick-me-up. Rikardu makes his own wine and goat cheese from his farm so everything was super fresh. There is also a little shop downstairs filled with handmade crafts and food items that was fun to check out.

Dinner:

For dinner, we took the bus to the sea-side town of Xlendi and like the previous night, the restaurant I was planning on taking us to was closed for the entire month. Literally the only restaurant open was Mobydick , which was right on the water and offered peaceful sounds of the breaking waves throughout our meal. I also spent much of our meal pointing out the many cats that were hovering around our table looking for scraps. I wasn’t too hungry so I opted for a simple vegetable soup but Evan got the traditional rabbit stew, which was super flavorful and tasty.

Monday

Breakfast:

We took a 5-minute walk from our Airbnb to “downtown” Nadur, which consisted of an atm, coffee shop, and giant church. Another Maltese pastizzi for breakfast, along with a chocolate donut (naturally). For two cappucinos and two pastries, our breakfast bill was €3. Basically, I love Maltese prices.

Lunch:

Back in Valletta for the rest of the afternoon, we popped into Da Pippo Trattoria on a whim. Best. Meal. In. Malta. By. Far. The small restaurant was very busy but we were able to grab the last open table. As soon as we were seated, our waiter placed a plateful of fresh goatcheese, tomatoes, and capers in front of us. After a couple minutes, he came back to our table and asked us what we were in the mood for – meat, seafood, pasta. No menus, he said, they only cook what they could get from the market that morning. Afterwards, he brought us a clam linguine and lobster ravioli, which were two of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had (and I live in Italy). That was followed by chocolate canolis, limoncello, and espresso. After all that food, I basically had to be rolled out of the restaurant but it was one of those meals that we’ll remember for years to come.