Monthly Archives: September 2013

Maneuvering in Milan

Milan! Milano Centrale is metal arches and concrete and studs, lots of natural light, like a giant stained glass aircraft hangar – Italian Renaissance steampunk, anyone? It empties in a huge cavernous hallway, very Harry Potter, something like Game Central in Wreck-it Ralph.

Milan looks like a ghost town on Sundays, until we hit the main streets – Corso Bueno Aires is first. This place is resplendent with shopping boutiques. It makes Orchard Road look weak. And we haven’t even hit the legendary Golden Rectangle!

Gelato break at Grom, the well known gelato chain. I have hazelnut, coffee, and extra-dark chocolate sorbet. It’s really good and sticky but the real deal breaker is the extra dark. It actually has a bitter aftertaste! And little dark chocolate bits embedded inside like mouth-treasures hidden in the deep. Wooooo I love it I’m going to get more.

Traipsing through the streets of Milan in the shopping district. This place is crazy. Any of this shops could feed a third world country man… A dress for thirteen thousand euros? They should have a prada scholarship for needy children or something like that. Oh humanity! What a species we are.

We watch a b-boy performance in the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel II, a super busy shopping street whose prices aren’t so incredible. So interesting! An Italian quintet trying to amp up the tourist crowd. I wonder at the impetus behind b-boy culture.

The Duomo of Milan looms in the distance, a collection of tall spires and parapets and statues that somehow reminds me of a Space Marine fortress-monastery. It is sort of sinister… Is it Gothic? (A quick check later on reveals that yes, it is.) It is very tall, white marble in pristine condition, tinged with hues of clouds during a pink sunset. It is high rather than vast, though it’s bulk cannot be underestimated. I can imagine these towers housing lascannons, missile emplacements, anti air artillery batteries, the bell tower housing a radar, spires radiating energy, signals for incoming aircraft, as imposing superhuman warriors look down from their solitude through windows on a world not quite their own, but one they are sworn to protect, bone-white trophies which hang in their personal cases mirroring the exterior of their domain. And the entire thing can lift off as a self contained carrier, on an eternal course to root out and destroy the enemies of Mankind. Oh my. Imagination running wild here.

Dinner is in a place called La Taverna del Borgo Antico in Via Fiori Chiari. Outdoor, nice pedestrian area, no cars, thankfully no cigarettes. I order macaroni with salmon and vodka, and then a sirloin steak: costata di manzo, think I got the Italian translation wrong though. Its some sort of red wine sauce and cheese! Oh yeah. I am looking forward to it.

Pasta comes and it’s like super long and thin penne, which is great at soaking up the creamy, cheesy, salmon-y sauce, with a touch of spicyness. It also has tiny bits of basil inside the sauce, adding visual appeal to the whole thing.. Pasta is al dente with flakes of salmon scattered generously throughout. Ah! The colour of cooked salmon, calling out to be consumed. Wooo! It goes down nicely with a touch of the warmth of vodka, though that might be my imagination at work.

Then comes the sirloin. Oh my oh my oh my it’s huge it’s something like 600 grams. At first I think it’s going to cost 60 euros or something, because the menu says a 250g portion for 19 euros. But it’s 19 euros! For that monster 600 gram steak. It’s huge and earthy and beefy and meaty and red and juicy and beef juice leaking out and just going chew chew chew my jaws are getting a workout just eating it. Chomp chomp and finally it is over and I have had my fill of meat. Rawr.

We finish off with gelato from a little place on the Via Madonnina, la Sorbetteria Castiglione. Woo! Dark chocolate, lemon (good and sour), and this wonderful thing which is a mix of mascarpone, espresso, and coffee beans mixed into plain chocolate. It is nomnomnom oh no my brain cannot take it anymore, can’t find any more ways to describe the creamy melty milky smooth goodness that is good gelato.

The inside of the Duomo is truly impressive. I am awed when I step inside. Arches! Tall stone arches, carved from the very rock by the fathers of the Dwarves, lovingly sculpted. Enormous stone pillars, each as tall as a 9 storey HDB flat, holding up the roof. Stained glass (I really like stained glass) shining like mithril, light daintily making its way in. I do think this is my favourite cathedral. Shadows in the rooftops, hiding treasures unseen… One feels small when faced with the enormity of the cathedral. An intended effect of the architect, to remind the worshiper of the frailty of your mortal shell?

After a climb of 250 steps the top of the Duomo is magnificent. Surrounded by trees of stone, intricately carved with individual designs and patterns, standing on a narrow stone path, one contemplates the workmen who once built this supremely incredible structure. How did they set the spires in place? From what germ of an idea did the plans of the architect spring forth? What agile manner in which did the mind of the engineer twist and wrap itself around the practical problems behind the construction of this cathedral? Wow! These are echoed by the workmen and the scaffolding that winds itself around the topmost spire, but somehow these trappings of modernity do not seem so out of place on the cathedral against the Milanese skyline.

As I run my fingers over the granite surfaces of the Duomo’s vertical faces I cannot help but think this would be a fun building to climb. With a harness, of course.

Okay so after taking many jaunts around Milanese streets we end up for day two’s dinner.

New Art Cafe, on Via Brera. Seafood linguine and ossoboco, shankbone with Milanese risotto. Last meal in Italy… No choice.

We are sharing this wine called Lambrusco… A red wine served ice cold with bubbles. It’s goooooood. Very grapey and the cold bubbles are wonderful and ticklish. Interesting complement to how the wine will warm you up! The restaurant’s service is excellent, it’s a family run thing, the lao ban niang takes our order and the husband serves the wine.

2 clams! 6 prawns! 10 mussels! Many many squids! A home-sized portion of linguine! Tomato sauce is tangy-sour but not too overpowering, balances nicely with the seafoody elements in the pasta. Linguine is al dente is fresh, has a nice bite to it. The prawns are sweet, and mussels have a good bounce to them. Individually the ingredients are not the best ever, but the combination of everything assembled together is really nice! One of the best seafood linguine I’ve ever tried. And a big portion to boot. Satisfied much. (The Parma ham and melon that we share as starters must have something to do with that.)

Shankbone is really soft… Soft soft pork with all the gluey gelatinous bits sticking close to the bone (yes some people don’t think it but I do) and it’s done with a herby tomato sauce with plenty of onions, ooh! Has sort of the oxtail feeling to it. The saffron risotto that comes with it is like a soft porridge, delicate taste. Alone it isn’t very good (to my desensitized tastebuds, maybe – it’s very plain) but with a touch of salt and a bunch of meat, woo! Risotto becomes a good complement. Though I think risotto is a very good sick-person’s-food.

And for my last dessert in Italy, what else but my favourite tiramisu? It does not disappoint. Mascarpone is va va voom bish ka boom, and sprinkled liberally with cocoa powder. Biscotti is swimming in coffee and a touch of liquor. And it’s two layers of the good stuff!!!! This is a truly decadent dessert which leaves me actually full – it is that rich. Not many desserts can make that claim.

Bye bye Milan! Off to Glasgow! Back to the UK – something I’ve been looking forward to. English as first language once more! My natural environment.

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Crispy McBacon in Venice

Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence is my favourite major rail terminal so far. The building is beautiful. Marble flooring and stylish signs, cool natural lighting. I read that it’s supposed to be a good representation of a certain style of architecture, but can’t remember which offhand. It is very nice though! Gives an impression of solidity and blue collar work, in a very polished and professional manner, with artistic embellishments for the sake of art and nothing else.

And here we are in Venice! Where a pound of flesh is truly expensive. As the train enters Venezia Santa Lucia we are greeted by the great gleaming lagoon. The sun shines and the water sparkles. My soul misses islands, having lived on one all my life.

Venice is bridges and tiny streets and a million tourists even during the down season. It’s little boats and grey green water and canals. The canals! Wow. Truly the veins of the city, channelling life.

Lunch is on the Grand Canal… The water, gondolas going by, tourists sitting dreamily on them boats, all enchanted by the fact that they are in Venice, the lagoon city. Everything in Venice is short: the tops of the cruise ships tower over the rooftops. There are gulls flitting around, occasionally paddling around in the water. I suspect they are secretly lurking and waiting for some poor fool to feed them bread, whereupon they will descend upon their victim in a vicious cloud of claws and feathers, taking all the rest of the loaf…

Transport is very cool, boats of all types populate the river, and shop fronts open into mini piers. Other than that it’s just walking and walking… Which we did. Straight line distance from train station to hotel was 1.1km, estimated total walking was 1.5km, across many bridges and walkways. Carrying a total of approximately 14-15kg on my shoulders, I feel tired! Clearly I am not in any condition to go on a route march. Oh dear.

After wandering the tight streets of Venice we enter St. Mark’s Square. Wow! Huge and majestic and delightful. Historic buildings on every side, white walls shining in the sun, a tall tower of brick to one side, the church to another… Crowds of people feeding crowds of pigeons, cameras snapping in an attempt to preserve the wonder of the moment. The friezes and statues are covered with pigeons. A gull perches nonchalantly on a statue of a winged lion, which itself stands atop a tall stone pillar. It is quite amusing.

Sitting by the canal near the Ponte de L’Arsenal o del Paradiso (bridge of the arsenal, methinks), I fold a little paper boat and set it down the canal. I make sure the edges are straight, it’s origami bottom carefully folded. To my secret joy it floats! And makes its jolly way down the canal. How a shipwright must feel, to see his creation set off from port! This is great.

Dinner is McDonald’s. Here we go.

My fries are golden and as stringy as ever, that wonderful oil-soggy that Macs is famous for. Covered unevenly in salt crystals, they are the epitome of unhealthy junk fast food, in their iconic red and yellow packaging. Their semi-crispy edges feel familiar in my mouth, reminding me that one of the constants in life is how exciting franchised fast food is.

My burger is a Crispy McBacon, which is basically bread mustard sauce standard crappy beef patty (SCBP), synthetic cheese, one measly piece of bacon, bread. I’m really looking forward to this. The beef patty is the standard familiar cardboard/minced crap texture that is found all over the world. I’m reassured that young kids around the world still taste packaging and not real food. The cheese is plasticky, and not stretchy at all – just the way it should be! Bread has no taste and merely serves for you to hold the other stuff together. The bacon also has no taste and all it does is to add a little hardness into your mouthful, something like a lau hong biscuit. All in all, a satisfying Macs meal, just what we were looking for. Lots of salt and imagination. Woo! This nonsense is 7.50 euro… That’s what you get from the only Macs in Venice. For the same price (12.30 SGD) I think you can get a McSamson meal. 8.55 for the Double McSpicy meal, 2 for the double cheese, 50 cents for upsize, 1 for apple pie… That works out to 12.55. What??!!!!

Macs must have some secret base, where trees grow hamburgers and Coke sprays from drinking fountains, and fries grow like grass. Ronald and the McDonald factory is what they would call the book, then movie, then happy meal tie-ins. Franchising!

Of Cathedrals and Kings

This morning begins with the consumption of the legendary triple espresso… It’s a fierce! Bitter bitter bitter but I’m not vibrating yet. Maybe it’s my innate caffeine resistance.

The Santa Maria del Fiore is impressive as yesterday. The facade of the building is intricately decorated, fluted columns framing tall windows, complex geometric patterns woven into the marble tiles of the surface. Pink marble inhabits spaces between the green and white. The entrance is superbly detailed, statues and friezes populating the enormous edifice, stern faces of saints and bishops staring out, cherubs dancing among them.

The inside is cavernous! Like one of the smaller halls of Khazad-dum. The flooring is entirely marble. It looks like more than a few basketball courts could fit this place, though I guess the marble floor might mess with dribbling and bounce passes. The echoes of the swish of the bet would be great though! Light streams in through the windows, illuminating the inside with a misty glow, so high is the ceiling. High arches span the cathedral. Granite and plaster and marble fused into a grand construction. I’m tempted to whistle and see what it sounds like in this place. There’s an organ in a corner, together with the choir it must be beautiful! Too bad there’s no choir here. Stained glass windows filter the sunlight, telling their own stories, crimson and carnelian crystal joining with violet and vibrant greens to dazzle. The silence is awesome. The camera cannot capture the scale of the place.

Lunch! Seafood risotto, fettucini bolognaise, and a triple threat sample of traditional Tuscan soups, filled with beans and veggies, and one with barley! Tuscan soups turn out to be more like stew, very thick, lots of body. Strong bean flavours, vegetable-y. The fettuccini is a dryer sort… I think it is a bit disappointing. There’s a spinach ravioli in walnut cream, super gao, but has a fascinating taste. The seafood risotto is my favourite! So many different elements coming into play: clams, mussels, little baby squid, squid rings, tomato, capsicum, octopus, all cooked with that rice and blending deliciously into a rich rich stew. I like risotto.

After three plates of food I am stuffed.

Michelangelo’s David is epic. It is honestly the most impressive statue so far. At a statuesque (ha-ha) 5.4 meters it stands at the end of the hallway. The only suitable word for it is Manly, with a capital M. His fierce and royal mien, a fiery gaze into both the distance and the future, the lines of the body speaking of great potential for action, yet the relaxed confidence of weight resting on one leg, conveying a sense of vitality and energy. Truly kingly.

A lazy afternoon is followed by a pizza dinner! Thin crust Italian pizza with super fresh ingredients… Mmmm. Just like how it’s meant to be.